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How to Cope with the Holidays... and Beyond!

Updated: Dec 8, 2022

How to Cope with the Holidays is an educational support group designed to help individuals cope with family dynamics and holiday stress. First Call's Family Services Counselor, Bethany DePugh explores setting healthy boundaries for the holidays, or any time of year...

Setting Healthy Boundaries: At the Holidays and Beyond

Welp, we knew they were coming. The holidays. Now they’re here… so are get togethers, activities, trips, office parties, family we don’t usually see… Uncle John who we stay away from after 8:30pm. The list goes on.

Some of these we are not so worried about. We feel comfortable (enough) and there’s no history that would lead us to think we’ll have anything but a good time. Some of us have not had to worry about substance use and mental health effecting family get togethers, and there are those of us that are all too familiar with how these might affect some or all our family get togethers during the holiday season and beyond. Whether we are dealing with our own mental health diagnosis or recovery from substance use, or it’s our friends or family, in or out of recovery - this is hard. Often being around people drinking or using alcohol or drugs may generate discomfort, fear, sadness, conflict, feeling apart from or less than.

Let’s pause. Please, first off, know that you are not alone. Second, you are not powerless to the options that arise in situations that we are powerless over. There are solutions that we will be talking about this next session of How To Cope Alumni group – in How To Cope For the Holidays.

Let’s briefly go over a few of the main things we’ll address and talk about things that may be helpful for you if you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation…

1. What IS a boundary?!

Prentis Hemphill most notably describes boundaries as, “Boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously.” Another well known expert on boundaries, Nedra Glover Tawwab says, “A boundary is something that keeps you safe and comfortable in your relationships.”

These boundaries might look like, WHEN do I arrive or go to a gathering? What gatherings I will or won’t go to? Who is welcome in my home? And, do I take my own car to the party? We do not want to set boundaries that become walls, we want to be able to participate if that’s good and safe for us and our family/friends. And know that we are not punishing anyone, boundaries are there for well-being and safety. They are in place so we can have close connections and celebrations with our people safely.

2. How do I know if I NEED to set a boundary?

Easy ways to tell if you need to think about setting a boundary…

  • I am uncomfortable.

  • I feel overwhelmed.

  • I feel resentful toward people for asking for my help.

  • I avoid phone calls and interactions with people who might ask for something.

  • I make comments about helping people and getting nothing in return.

  • I feel burned out.

  • I frequently daydream about dropping everything and disappearing.

  • I have no time for myself.

REMEMBER – holiday stress is natural; stress comes from positive events and interactions as well as negative ones. We are looking to prioritize your needs during this time of heightened stress. Your needs are important and if those needs aren’t met, we aren’t going to enjoy ourselves or be enjoyable.

3. How do I COMMUNICATE this boundary?

Most important is that you are calm, you use simple/direct language and are firm in your delivery. The language we’ll talk about, but delivery is also important. You do not need to defend or debate the boundary you set and get support when practicing those initial boundaries or a particularly difficult one. And stick to the limit you set! What does Pooh bear say?

“You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”

Helpful/simple language:

I need...

I want…

I expect…

I prefer…


4. Key things to keep in mind…

You are responsible for setting the boundaries, not for someone’s reactions to your boundary.

Someone’s reaction to the boundary you set is not a reflection on the validity of the boundary. Simple, not easy. While setting boundaries is simple in theory, it has many layers including our emotions, their emotions and everyone’s instincts making it difficult at time to carry out.

Try to let go of the worry of people not accepting your boundary. Sometimes, friends and family who get upset when you set boundaries are those who benefited before you set them. You will feel better about setting boundaries the more you practice setting them.

Setting boundaries is not selfish. It’s an act of self-love which strengthens our sense of self and promotes healthy living.

You are not alone in this, and you are capable!

Questions? Reach out to me or sign up for How to Cope for the Holidays (December 13th at 6pm)! And I hope you have a beautiful, healthy, and restful holiday season…

Bethany DePugh, Family Services Counselor, 816-800-8057 -


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