Story by Dr. Eleni Boosalis of Del Ray Psych
The holidays are upon us, along with all the associated stressors—the socially distanced holiday parties, gift giving, card sending, homeschooling and cookie making—all while trying to maintain some sanity amidst a persistent pandemic. Additionally, this time of year presents us with numerous opportunities to set boundaries for ourselves and for the loved ones in our lives.
This year more than ever, setting boundaries with others is imperative. In a world where we crave both safety and social connection, we are faced with the challenge of balancing both. We desire to connect with others, yet want to stay socially distant. We often look forward to seeing certain people every holiday, but this year we may experience a heightened sense of stress as the holidays approach.
This month, take inventory of who and what feeds your soul. Notice if you are feeling pressured to say “yes” to social and family gatherings. Ask yourself if you really want to go to certain events or if you are simply saying “yes” out of guilt. In order to truly practice self love and decrease stress this holiday season, notice if you are making yourself a priority or if you are putting everyone else’s needs before your own. Do you find that you avoid expressing your opinion for fear of creating conflict? Is it easier to “keep the peace” and not “rock the boat?”
These are all great questions to consider as you take inventory of where to create emotional boundaries and set verbal and non-verbal expectations for what you are comfortable with. Here are five tips on how you can start setting emotional boundaries for yourself. Although it may initially seem daunting, taking small steps toward creating these new behaviors will get easier, and they will be met with less resistance as they become your new norm.
Five emotional boundaries you can start using right now:
1. Make a plan for what you are comfortable with before responding to an invitation. You can buy some time by saying you will think about it. First, decide what you are comfortable with. Second, mentally and verbally rehearse your response. Lastly, commit to executing your plan. Expect possible pushback and plan for that as well.
2.Learn that it is OK to say “no.” Sometimes the only way to say “yes” to self care is to say “no” to requests that come at you. Ask yourself why you feel inclined to readily say “yes” to requests for a zoom happy hour, outdoor play date or a work responsibility that doesn’t belong to you. Is it because this brings joy to your life or because you fear rejection? Is it because you feel energized by that group of people or because you don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings? Notice if you are truly taking your needs into consideration or if you tend to put your needs last on the list. Sometimes saying “no” is the first step to making yourself a priority. Protect your time—it has value, and you can’t buy more time on Amazon. Spend it wisely—on whatever feeds your soul or that which is absolutely necessary.
3. Replenish your emotional bank account. If you cannot get out of an “obligation,” make time to replenish yourself. Make yourself a priority when you feel depleted. Replenishing could be alone time, a long bath, reading a book, dancing, taking a walk, creating, cooking, vegging on the couch or doing anything that feeds your energy and your soul.
4. Practice assertive communication. Read up about communication styles. There are generally four styles of communication. They include passive aggressive, avoidant, aggressive, or assertive communication. Assertive communication is the goal. A good way to remember assertive communication is by using the acronym HARD: honest, assertive, respectful and direct. Be honest and direct about what your expectations are in a respectful manner. Then follow through. Use “I” statements instead of “you” statements. Instead of saying, “YOU are so pushy,” you can say, “I don’t feel comfortable with that.” You are not responsible for protecting other people’s feelings by avoiding your own. As long as you are respectful in your communication, a friend’s bruised ego isn’t your responsibility. In general, if saying “no” causes a rift in a relationship, it is likely not a healthy relationship.
5. Become comfortable with ALL your feelings. There are no negative or positive feelings. These are just labels. All feelings are important, and all feelings are informative and valuable. Anger can let you know something is wrong and a boundary is being violated. Fear can protect you from poor choices. Happiness can let you know you are doing an activity that feeds your soul. Fatigue can let you know you’re depleted and need some time to replenish. Acknowledge your feelings. Don’t avoid them. If you do, they will come back to bite you. They can manifest as a back ache, a headache, anxiety, sleep issues, depression and a whole host of other symptoms. Emotions serve to inform you. They’re energy in motion, and are meant to rise and fall. Allow them to move and examine them with curiosity.
This holiday season, make a commitment to protect your physical and emotional boundaries. No more saying “yes” to something you are actually feeling uncomfortable with. You are your own advocate. As cliche as it sounds, you have to love yourself first. Be kind, patient and nurturing with yourself. Peace and love come from within. Building your resources within will benefit both you and those around you. Fill your well, so that you may give from a place of abundance rather than a place of depletion.
Del Ray Psych and Wellness wishes you a Happy Holiday season and most abundant New Year filled with love and hope, and growth!
Meet Dr. Eleni Boosalis
Dr. Eleni Boosalis, PsyD is Licensed Clinical Psychologist, co-owner of Del Ray Psych and Wellness and podcast host of 'Why does this keep happening to me?'