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May your days be merry and b... boundary filled!

This holiday season is unlike any we have experienced before. While holidays are often a joyous time for family traditions and spending time with loved ones, they can also be stressful for those who have strained relationships with those they see during the holidays. Covid-19 puts a new twist on the holiday angst, with messages and guidelines to socially distance, cancel plans and stay home with only those who live with you, especially since Covid-19 cases are surging in many parts of the country. Thanksgiving has passed and we are 9 months deep into the pandemic, so this is not a new dilemma. However, managing these decisions is not something that necessarily gets easier over time if we don't know how to handle them. As we are halfway into December, plans for winter holidays and gatherings are upon us and for many of us, that means daily decision making on how and when to set boundaries surrounding the choices we make. Boundary setting is difficult to navigate for people in general, even pre-pandemic, but the more we listen to our gut, say no to things that don't feel right, the more confident we will be in knowing our limits and speaking up for what feels right. Here are four things to consider when making choices during a very covid-y holiday season:

1. Remind yourself that 2020 is different from other years:

Just because you have been going to your aunt's house with 27 of your closest family members of all ages EVERY year, doesn't mean that it is going to be the case this year. "This year IS different!" It is important to adjust expectations, even during the holidays when we are used to gathering in groups large and small. Yes, it is disappointing if holiday events are canceled, postponed or look different (zoom sessions, outside only or with fewer people), and that is difficult for so many people to accept. Remind yourself that just because things are different, doesn't mean they can't be memorable. This is a great time to make NEW holiday traditions with those who you live with or feel comfortable seeing- get creative! Here are 21 festive ideas if you need some inspiration.

2. Understand what YOUR boundaries are:

Before setting boundaries, understanding what they actually are is essential. Many people who consider themselves to be "people pleasers" or "don't like confrontation/conflict/letting people down..." may be confused about where their boundaries lie. Listen to your gut and what you think is safe, what you feel is risky or not, and go from there. Everyone has different opinions on how to handle covid-19, so it is important to stay up to date on factual data from sources you trust to make informed decisions. Trust your intuition, and do what feels right to YOU.

3. Send a CLEAR, respectful message:

Once you have determined what you are comfortable with, communicate the message clearly to family and friends. Here are some examples- "We feel most comfortable staying home to celebrate this year, and would love to set up a zoom party so we can still catch up" "I am not comfortable attending your event this year, but would love to see you for a hike one day soon" "We are only seeing people outside right now" or "I won't be traveling this year, and know its disappointing, I am bummed about it too."

4. Accept others opinions:

Sometimes people will be upset when putting a boundary in place, especially if it is something that is not expected. One way to respond to anger, pushback or bargaining once you do set a boundary is through validating the other person's feelings. Likely, the other person is coming from a place of loneliness, disappointment and genuinely wants to see you. Remember that those underlying feelings can come out as anger and frustration, and validate with a respectful response such as: "I see that you're upset that we won't be coming to your event this year. That makes total sense, I am really sad to miss it as well."

Remember that boundary setting is a critical aspect of building and maintaining healthy relationships. It is necessary for self-care and self-preservation at all times, and is especially important during Covid-19. If setting boundaries in general is something that is difficult for you, practicing will certainly help to build assertiveness! If you are presently or have been previously seeing a therapist, chances are this is a topic that has come up in one form or another. If not, discuss or consider different aspects of your life that you think could use some clear boundaries- (work, parenting, relationships with partners, family members, friends and neighbors, even within yourself!) and role-play or journal about what that would actually look like before practicing in real life.

"Love yourself enough to set boundaries. Your time and energy are precious. You get to choose how you use it. You teach people how to treat you by deciding what you will and won't accept" -Anna Taylor

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