The holidays are supposed to be a joyful time when people gather with friends, family and loved ones. For people in recovery, however, the holidays can present a variety of triggering situations that can easily drain energy and cause anxiety to skyrocket. Instead of gritting your teeth through the season, there are ways you can set helpful boundaries to ensure you can keep calm, avoid triggers and keep your sobriety intact.

What Is a Boundary?

Essentially, a boundary is a way of setting and asserting your needs, values and thoughts. Boundaries allow you to choose what you’re comfortable with doing and what you want to avoid. Your own personal boundaries can sometimes compete with the opinions and values of others.

You may feel as if you must please everyone around you, leading to feelings of anxiety. However, you can let others know when you don’t want to do something, and you don’t need to make your actions revolve around the approval of others. You can choose what you want to do over the holidays, and if certain gatherings prove to be too much, you have every right to enforce your boundaries or even leave. You are not obligated to do what others expect from you, and setting boundaries can help you feel empowered and free.

Common Holiday Triggers and Boundaries

There are a few triggering situations that often occur throughout the holidays. Here are some helpful ways to avoid them by setting boundaries:

Putting your needs first: Your sobriety should always come before the demands of your family. This means you should take care of your needs first and maintain your recovery. It’s important to continue your recovery plan throughout the holidays by doing activities like attending meetings, joining friends in recovery, meditation, exercise, yoga or eating well.

Recommended boundary: If you’re challenged or encouraged to miss something just this once, you may be unintentionally breaking your boundaries. Allowing this may cause those around you to believe you do not enforce your boundaries in every situation, and they may not respect your future boundaries. It is important that you stand your ground.

Know you have the right to take a timeout: Holiday gatherings can feel overwhelming, especially when others are drinking alcohol or using other substances. It can be easy to feel drained or even trapped while in these situations.

Recommended boundary: Only schedule and attend events you’re comfortable with. It’s important to be aware that the holidays may make you feel a little more stressed than usual. In addition, give yourself permission to leave an event whenever you feel too overwhelmed. You don’t have to explain yourself — you decide what to do with your time.

You don’t have to discuss anything you don’t want to: This is a challenging situation for many. When family members impose their opinions or give unsolicited advice, it can feel infuriating and demeaning. Until you enforce a boundary, you may be dealing with these situations often.

Recommended boundary: Respectfully telling a family member or loved one that a certain topic isn’t up for discussion is sufficient. It is up to them how they react. If they react negatively, it is not your responsibility to explain your boundary or appease their feelings. Overstepping your boundaries is not OK for anyone to do, regardless of who they are.

You Are in Charge

When it comes to holiday festivities, the extent of your participation is entirely up to you. Especially in early recovery, it can be difficult to face certain situations or family members. In addition, devoting yourself to recovery can sometimes mean that you’re unable to attend functions or participate in activities.

By setting boundaries and giving yourself permission to focus on your own needs, you can remove the stress of many situations. Understanding that you are in charge of your holiday experience and are able to enforce your boundaries can be life-changing. If nothing else this holiday season, give yourself the gift of setting boundaries and allowing yourself to say “no.”