The holiday season can be the busiest time of the year. Holiday parties, gift exchanges, family gatherings, celebratory dinners, and decorations are just a few factors that play into the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. From a young age, we are told to buy gifts for others, be on our best behavior at holiday gatherings, engage with family members we barely know, and enjoy the holiday season. As we get older, we are often pulled in so many different directions around the holidays. Traveling to see family members, attending multiple holiday gatherings on the same day, trying to please your family and your significant other’s family, juggling holiday social events with friends, and soon enough all of this stress of pleasing others can catch up with you.

The underlying reasons for pleasing others

The constant need to please others can often create feelings of anxiety, worry, and depression. “People pleasers” usually have underlying fears of not being accepted or not feeling wanted, and therefore they go out of their way to make others happy. Managing expectations and taking care of the needs of others can be depleting, especially around the holidays. Our society often portrays the holiday season as a season of giving. Although generosity is an excellent trait to have, sometimes, too much generosity can cross the line, especially when trying to please others consistently.

Developing healthy boundaries around the holidays

The holidays should be a fun time for everyone and should far outweigh any of the stress that the holidays can bring. Sometimes it is essential to set boundaries with family and friends to avoid feeling anxious and stressed.

Limit the number of family gatherings you attend: Having to drive around to different houses to participate in multiple Christmas dinners can be exhausting. Appetizers at your parent’s house, dinner at your in-laws and dessert at your step-parent’s home does not leave any time to relax or enjoy the company. Instead of trying to please everyone on each side of the family, alternating who you spend the holidays with each year can be more relaxing. Maybe you spend Thanksgiving with your significant other’s family; Christmas with your parents and New Year’s with your step-parents, and this can rotate each year. Running around from house to house can be overwhelming, and although you may be making others happy, you are doing a disservice to yourself.

Set a budget: It so easy to splurge on gifts for friends and family, but this can take up a lot of time and money, potentially putting a lot of financial strain on yourself. Set a limit and a strict list of who you are exchanging gifts with this year. If you have a large family or friend group, then try participating in a Secret Santa exchange or maybe try making gifts or giving acts of service. Regardless of what you decide, this gift buying process should not be overwhelming, nor should it cause any financial strain on your pocketbook.

Do not be afraid to say “no”: Declining an invitation to a holiday gathering can be a healthy way to prevent any unneeded stress or tension among family members. Maybe your uncle John does not agree with your political views and always attempts to bring up politics at dinner, or perhaps some family members just make you uncomfortable. Just because you received an invitation to a holiday gathering, does not mean you have to accept. Your job should not be to please others around the holidays, at the expense of your happiness. It is okay to say “no” if it means avoiding stress and anxiety.

Kristen Fuller, M.D., is a clinical content writer and enjoys writing about evidence-based topics in the cutting-edge world of mental health and addiction medicine. She is a family medicine physician and author, who also teaches and contributes to medicine board education. Her passion lies within educating the public on preventable diseases, including mental health disorders and the stigma associated with them. She is also an outdoor activist and spends most of her free time empowering other women to get outside into the backcountry.

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