It always seems like our stress gets amped up during the holidays – traveling, planning, spending money, seeing family and friends – it’s a lot to manage. We’re told this is a time to slow down, reflect and celebrate. How can we do that with all this other stuff we need to do now?! One way we can prioritize our health during this time is by setting boundaries.

Krekelberg emily
Extension Educator – Farm Safety and Health / University of Minnesota Extension

In its simplest definition, a boundary is a limit put on something. In this case, we’re thinking about personal boundaries we set with ourselves and others to maintain positive relationships and good mental health. Boundaries are not a bad thing; they serve as a mechanism for us to limit our exposure to experiences we may find stressful or hurtful.

Setting healthy boundaries is going to look different for each person and for different situations. Dr. Jo Nash writes, “Boundaries differ from person to person and are mediated by variations in culture, personality and social context. Setting boundaries defines our expectations of ourselves and others in different kinds of relationships.”. The boundaries we set may vary from person to person, or situation to situation, and that’s OK. Think of boundaries as a way to customize experiences in a way that feels healthy and safe.

How to set boundaries

Setting boundaries requires strong communication and a clear understanding of the purpose of the boundary. Expressing your needs clearly and firmly is a crucial step in the process. If you haven’t set many boundaries in the past, this may feel uncomfortable or confrontational. Remember that setting boundaries is a form of self-care. They are a way for us to avoid stressful situations and to protect our sense of self and peace.

In the book Set boundaries, find peace: A guide to reclaiming yourself, author Nedra Glover Tawwab provides three easy steps to setting healthy boundaries:


Step 1. Be as clear and as straightforward as possible. Do not raise your voice.

Step 2. State your need or request directly in terms of what you’d like, rather than what you don’t want or like.

Step 3. Accept any discomfort that arises as a result, whether it’s guilt, shame or remorse.

What does setting boundaries sound like?

Below are four examples of ways we can set boundaries in different situations. It may be an uncomfortable conversation, a request from you or another situation where you feel you need to protect yourself and your limits. Consider how you may be able to use some of these ideas as we head into the holidays.

“No.” It’s OK to tell people “no.” It doesn’t mean you don’t care about something. Knowing when you can and cannot take something on is an important part of setting boundaries.

“Let’s talk about something else.” You have no requirement to participate in something that makes you uncomfortable. Redirecting the conversation communicates your boundaries to others.

“Can I follow up with you later?” Sometimes the biggest boundary we need is time. Asking for more time allows us to focus on what needs our attention now.

“I need some time to myself.” Communicate with others when you need a break. Be an advocate for yourself and your health; sometimes we just need some space.

Putting it all together

Setting healthy boundaries takes self-awareness and self-understanding; it is important to take the time to reflect on your needs and how boundaries can help fulfill your needs. It can feel difficult or weird if you don’t have a lot of practice, but remind yourself that this is not about being selfish but rather about being able to show up as your whole self without fear of being put in a situation that will make you uncomfortable.

Boundaries can also help build our resilience. Creating ways to avoid unnecessary stressors can help us handle our overall stress better. Boundaries may mark a change in a relationship, which can make the process feel harder. A healthy view of change is the foundation to resilience. Setting boundaries is an act of self-care, and self-care is not selfish.

As we head into another holiday season, remember that boundaries are a healthy way to build positive relationships. Consider ways you can build boundaries and increase your resilience. Take the time to explore what boundaries are good for you and put them into action. Be purposeful and intentional in the boundaries you set and enjoy a restful and resilient holiday season.

References omitted but are available upon request by sending an email to the editor.