The holidays are often associated with friends, family, and food. It is a great excuse to get folks together whom you may not have seen all year. Calendars resemble a bingo card as celebrations fill dates for weeks, if not months, in advance. Historically, the biggest obstacle you had to work around was poor weather or making sure the kids said thank you for gifts they receive. The hurdles around the holiday season are much bigger this year, a fact validated by the CDC dedicating a full page of resources to holiday celebration recommendations and safety tips.

The word “boundary” means different things to different people. In popular psychology, a personal boundary is what separates your thoughts, feelings, or opinions from others. This year, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic will continue through the holiday season. Given the unfortunate timing of events, there is an increased focus on preferred physical boundaries. A physical boundary is defined as the space that separates you from another person. This may sound like an easy point of clarification, but the overlap of personal and physical boundaries can be difficult to communicate, especially when tied to annual traditions. How can you both assert your boundary preferences and honor those of others during this holiday season?

First, consider what level of physical closeness you would be comfortable with this year. Give yourself time to think and consider the alternatives. Some questions to consider include…Are you comfortable celebrating holidays in person? With a specific group size? If certain precautions are taken by attendees? If individuals are from out-of-state? If you are at a loss, recall events from holidays past to frame these questions.

If appropriate, the next step after hashing out your thoughts is a conversation with your significant other or spouse. The goal of this conversation is to agree on a plan of action as a team so you can avoid miscommunication or disappointment down the road. Physical boundaries are likely not a topic you have discussed in the past so it can feel stressful. Why is it so tricky? You are likely trying to juggle the expectations of a lot of people in a situation where there is no way to make everyone happy. Do what is best for you and your family knowing that there will be people who disagree.

Now, you are ready to communicate your boundaries to family and friends. Begin the conversation with an open mind. Use “I” statements to express yourself and speak in a calm voice. Boundaries are a two-way street – give family and friends an opportunity to share as well. Avoid judgmental comments if they have a different point of view. Set a tone of mutual respect and understanding by acknowledging their thoughts and feelings.

A change in tradition is likely to be packed with an emotional punch. So be patient with others, and yourself, as you process what this year’s holidays may look and feel like. This may be the perfect year to start a new holiday tradition that brings memories for years to come.

Brio wishes you a warm and safe holiday season!

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