Managing Holiday Stress & Family Boundaries

It’s the Holiday season, and while full of bright decor, cozy weather, and the promise of joy, it’s very normal to feel exhausted in every way. From childhood to adulthood, the holidays become a very different experience, but that experience doesn’t have to be filled with dread. This is why we wanted to create a blog with some tips to handle not only specific holiday stressors, but also tough family boundaries.

While writing this I realized that holiday stressors are all around us, but don’t fret, because there are even more ways to deal with them in a healthy way. And with just a little practice, you’ll be on your way to tackling the holidays with confidence.

Personal stress and anxiety during the holidays is something I’m sure we’re all familiar with. Here are some specific stressors that you might be dealing with, and some healthy ways to cope.

  • Feeling Lonely: Whether you’ve just experienced a loss, made a big life change, or you’re feeling isolated, loneliness can be a debilitating feeling during the holidays. But it’s important to be kind to yourself. Forcing yourself to play happy, or feeling like you should be a certain way does not help anyone. Grief is normal and a process. Instead of thinking things should be this or that, reach out to someone. It could be a friend, a community resource, family, religion, or an event. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, then start to change your personal dialogue. Instead of using should, which gives you no credit, and discourages a healthy relationship with yourself. Instead try using “can” or “could”. This gives you power over your choices. Phrases such as “It brings me joy to…” or “It is important to me…” or “I want…” are also great. Next time you’re sad at home, instead of saying “I should really get up and do something” say “It would bring me joy to make a hot chocolate and read a chapter of a book” or “I want to treat myself”. It seems like such a small change, but will make a huge difference. 
  • Pushing for Perfection: Around the holiday season, I see many people pushing for the perfect idea of the holidays. It’s normal for everyone to have a specific idea of what their holidays are going to look like, but that is not always going to line up with everyone else’s ideas. It’s important to recognize that traditions change, families change, people change, and being open to that will make the holidays a lot easier. For example, say you and your partner have a new home together. Your partner is going to have different traditions than you, and that’s okay. Instead of repeating your old traditions, make new traditions that are unique to your family. You also might have to compromise on quite a few things. It could be gifts, get-togethers, food, or schedules. It’s important to remember that this is not bad, just different. 
  • Make Time for Your Normal Routine & Self-Care: Because the holidays can get so busy and hectic, we often forget that self-care and normal routine are still important. If you workout every morning, read, do puzzles, hangout with friends, etc, don’t forget to make that a priority. It’s easy to lose your footing during the holidays, and this is a way to stay grounded. And if you’re particularly stressed or overwhelmed, carve out only 15 or 30 minutes for some yoga, breathing exercises, skincare, walking, playing with your animals, or anything that might bring your nervous system back to baseline. 
  • Stick to a plan and a budget: Gift giving is a major part of the holidays, and also a big stressor for many people. It’s very important to stick to a budget and make sure you’re giving what you can manage. It’s always the thought that counts when you’re giving to someone you care about. Handmade items are always a great idea, especially when you’re stumped on ideas. Going over your budget to try and impress or look a certain way is only going to harm you in the long run. And trust me, those that love and appreciate you will cherish any thoughtful gesture, small or big.

Now to tackle family stressors, which can be one of the biggest headaches around this season. But listen, everyone goes through this stuff, and practicing some of the healthy habits below could save you from unwanted anxiety, and promote better relationships.

  • Don’t Let Guilt Get in The Way: Around the holidays, guilt can be a weight on our shoulders for many reasons. Plans, obligations, gifts, and parties just to name a few. One of our interns, Caroline, brought up an amazing point that really resonated with me, which is the fact that you don’t have to give into family pressure. If you’re mental health or your partner’s mental health is not going to benefit from joining a specific gathering, then there is no need to go. If there’s a secret Santa, or party you don’t feel comfortable contributing to, then don’t. The statements that “everyone else will be there” or “it won’t be that bad” is just not a good enough reason. This idea that we must endure certain people because “it’s family” can go too far. Of course family members we love can get on our nerves too, but people that genuinely make you unhappy or uncomfortable don’t need to be socializing with you. Make it a point to socialize with those that make you feel loved and happy. 
  • Stick to Your Boundaries: Sticking to boundaries goes hand in hand with our last point. During the holidays it’s important to set specific boundaries with family members. If topics are off the table, socializing with specific people is off the table, or you’ve decided to make a new tradition, make that known. Telling your family your boundaries in a very straightforward way will promote respect. But once you’ve set these boundaries, they must stay a priority. Don’t let things slide or discuss topics that you stated were off limits, this is going to blur your once established boundaries. Remember that you will get pushback, it’s just inevitable. Family members might tell you your boundaries are unreasonable, guilt you into compromising, or say something hurtful. This only shows why boundaries are so important. Stand tall and firm. 
  • Make a Schedule: Families can be big, spread out, and complicated, and many times this equals lots of gatherings. This is especially true when you have a partner in your life. There comes a time where you have to decide who’s family you’ll be joining for a specific holiday? This can be a difficult decision because it’s a change, and it might offend some people. Compromise is really important, especially with your partner because they are the person you will be creating new traditions and memories with. So make a schedule, maybe you can do something with your partner’s family one day, and your family a different day. And if that doesn’t work out, you can switch off years, or even do your own thing during the holidays. It’s important to remember it’s a personal choice.

I hope that you were able to relate to some of these specific holiday stressors and you can apply some of these healthy habits to your life this season, next season, and all the holiday seasons to come. Your mental health is so incredibly important. You must take care of yourself before you can pile on the weight of the holidays. It will not only benefit you in the long run, but your family and loved ones as well. Happy Holidays beautiful people! If you have any questions or want to hear about any other topics in the future, email


This blog was written by Lilly Hart, a recent graduate of the University of South Carolina. She currently has her Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology, with a minor in counseling. She has a deep passion for mental health awareness and plans to further her career in graduate school. She is the Administrative Assistant and Community Outreach Coordinator at Carolina Assessment Services, LLC, and can’t wait to produce new and insightful content for our readers.

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