Having fun during the holiday season when you are chronically ill
Updated: Dec 2, 2022
It’s the holiday season!
School holidays, holiday preps, family gatherings, Christmas markets, dinner parties….it all sounds exciting, doesn’t it?
However, the festive season can be quite draining for women living with long-term health conditions. It can be a time of no respite where the craziness and hecticness of it all, leads to emotional and physical exhaustion and the dreaded symptom
There are many reasons why people with chronic illness or chronic pain may dread the holiday season:
Dealing with overbearing family members who drain their energy
Having to commit to multiple events, functions, and parties
Worrying over gift purchases
Exposure to more people can impact those with impaired immunity
Multiple travel plans
Lack of facilities and services catering to their unique needs (accessibility, dietary etc)
The festive season is meant to be enjoyed, it’s meant for quality time with loved ones, and it’s meant to rejuvenate and reinvigorate you, so you start the New Year with joy and hope.
It’s not meant to drain the life out of you, leaving you burnout, resentful, and… even depressed.
As we head into all the craziness, there is ONE essential skill you need to have if you wish to not only survive this holiday season but relish it: Setting and Honouring Healthy Boundaries!
Join the pay-what-you-can upcoming workshop on maintaining healthy boundaries around the holiday
season on Thursday 15th December 2022, 8 pm GMT, 3 pm EST.
Setting and Honouring Healthy Boundaries!
Yes, the ability to set and honour your boundaries, can make or break this holiday season.
Saying 'NO' to that which can affect your physical and mental health is crucial if you desire a peaceful and enjoyable holiday.
As you go through this article, keep your pen and paper ready because I will be taking you through a few exercises to help you gain clarity regarding the boundaries you absolutely need in your life but are struggling with.
Write down or reflect on the questions below as you read.
1. How does the struggle you face with setting and maintaining a boundary affect your perception or image of yourself? How does it make you feel about yourself?
Quite often, we tend to feel bad about ourselves when we fail to set or honour a personal boundary. Please know that struggling with boundaries is not a character flaw. It is a common issue that many of us face. The good news is that setting and honouring boundaries is a skill that can be learned and perfected over time. While you are still working on this skill, be kind to yourself. Self-compassion must be part of your journey.
2. Can you recall a time when you felt angry or frustrated with yourself for failing to set or maintain a boundary, especially during the holiday season?
Spend a few minutes recalling the incident, when and where it happened, the context, and the conversation. You can list multiple incidents too.
There are multiple areas where we may clash with others during the holiday season. You may disagree with your partner regarding gift giving or hosting dinners. You may feel pressured by siblings, parents or in-laws.
Disagreements, in themselves, cannot hurt you, if you have the skills to stand your ground and put forward your viewpoint. Disagreements hurt you only when you feel unable to speak up and express concerns or alternate opinions.
You need to dig deep and bring to your awareness the beliefs that may be keeping you from expressing yourself freely and setting boundaries.
3. There are a number of beliefs and assumptions that could be keeping you stuck. Which of the following applies to you?
I believe that I don’t deserve to set personal boundaries. I don’t believe that my needs are not as important as the needs of others.
I’m afraid of offending/ hurting others if I set a boundary.
I’m fearful of the anger of others if I set a boundary. I do not like confrontations.
I’m worried about the disapproval of others.
I hate disappointing others.
I’m afraid of being criticized because I believe their criticisms to be true.
One or more of the above may apply to you. There may also be other factors keeping you stuck that are not listed above. Go ahead and list them now.
You now have some clarity regarding the situations which you find most difficult, the reasons behind your struggle with boundaries, and the impact of the absence of healthy boundaries on your self-image. Self-awareness is an important part of learning to confidently set healthy boundaries.
Oftentimes, we fail to maintain boundaries because of the excuses that pop up in our mind when we try to do so:
‘I just need to let this go because it is not important’
‘I do not want arguments hence I need to keep quiet’
We make multiple excuses to avoid facing the emotional turmoil and anxiety which can arise when we try to maintain healthy boundaries!
4. How would you feel if you could confidently set healthy boundaries? How would this make you feel about yourself?
Most likely, you would feel empowered, experience a greater feeling of well-being, and being in control of your life.
Chronic illness, as it is, tends to make one feel helpless and powerless due to its unpredictable and negative impact on the body and daily functioning.
Having healthy boundaries, and being able to express these confidently will help you experience a measure of control over your life!
5. Now think about the upcoming weeks. Where do you anticipate trouble? Who do you feel you are most likely to clash with? What part of the holiday season are you dreading?
These questions will help you decide on which boundaries you need to have in place for the next few weeks. At this stage, it is crucial that you do not overwhelm yourself with unrealistic self-expectations. Pick only one area you wish to focus on and do not expect perfection from yourself.
Your past experience with the holiday season would already have given you a good glimpse of the areas or people you struggle with. Focus on only one of these as a start. Attempting to make too many changes at once can backfire.
6. What is your desired outcome for this holiday season? What do you wish to see happening with regards to this specific area or person?
When working on the above, be as specific as possible. For example, let’s say you felt pressured into spending too much on gifts in past years.
Reducing your spending this year may involve buying gifts only for close family members and friends or reducing the amount you spend on each gift. Hence, to be more specific, your desired goal would be to ‘keep the gift expenditures below £ x.00’.
Being specific about your goal is crucial to understanding where you need to set the boundary.
7. Which boundaries do you need in place to ensure that you achieve your desired outcome?
An example with regard to the above scenario could be:
‘I will not allow my family and friends to guilt-trip me into higher spending’
‘I will not go on shopping trips with anyone this year so I can avoid the pressure to spend more and instead, choose wisely on my own’
Identifying your personal boundaries is, however, not enough. Boundaries must be communicated clearly and honestly to be effective. You need to let people know your limits. Ideally, you would communicate these before a sticky situation arises.
For instance, in the above scenario, you will not wait until your friend asks you where you would like to go for the annual gift-shopping trip. Instead, you will have this conversation with her beforehand.
If you are used to doing certain things in a certain way in the past, those around you will expect you to continue the same pattern. Unless you communicate your change of plans and your boundaries, they will stay in the dark.
8. WHO do you need to communicate your change of plans or boundaries to?
9. WHEN will you communicate these to them?
It is normal to feel anxious and second-guess yourself at this point. You may notice several excuses popping up in your mind again, with regard to why you should NOT have those boundaries in place and why it is best not to rock the boat, etc.
You may feel like procrastinating and delaying important conversations. All of these feelings and thoughts are natural. Your mind is only trying to protect you and hence, the excuses start popping up.
However, remind yourself of how you felt when you did not have these boundaries in place.
And comfort yourself in the knowledge that these distressing feelings are temporary. The benefits of healthy boundaries are greater than the temporary anxiety.
Finally, it is useful to communicate what you would do if your boundaries are not respected:
‘I will need to end the call if you keep insisting on me giving gifts to family members I barely know’.
You need to decide on the consequences ahead of time because inevitably, some people will push and disrespect your limits. Following through on these consequences will ensure that people take you seriously.
10. How will you handle challenges to your boundaries?
Being firm about your boundaries in the face of hostility and pressure can be intimidating. Be compassionate and kind to yourself if you struggle in the beginning and try again. Don’t beat yourself up. Change takes time and practice.
By now, you must have greater clarity regarding the boundaries you need so you can have an enjoyable holiday this year.
11. Now that you have more awareness of your need for healthier boundaries around the holiday season, are you ready for the next step?
If so, join my upcoming workshop on maintaining healthy boundaries around the holiday season on Thursday 15th December 2022, at 8 pm GMT, 3 pm EST.
This one-hr, pay-what-you-can workshop will:
Provide you with a safe space to share your unique challenges.
Guide you through a simple but effective process to ensure you stay true to your boundaries even when challenged.
Support you in setting flexible boundaries which are neither too strict nor too loose.
The pay-what-you-can option will last only until Sunday 11th December after which the workshop will be priced at £29.00.
Contact me if you have any questions about the workshop.
A fellow practitioner, Audrey Zannese suggests some gentle body exercises and visualisations to help set boundaries.
Audrey is an anxiety and management expert at Step Into Sophrology who helps women living with chronic illness, fatigue & pain to take back control of their body and health by teaching them a simple but powerful body-mind practice called sophrology.
You can see her tips and exercises here: 3 tips for a healthy and peaceful run up to Christmas.