Setting healthy boundaries for the holidays and beyond

Koa Health
Publish Date

Mental wellbeing (and happier holidays) begin with better boundaries

For most of us, everyday responsibilities keep us running at full capacity year-round. And too often, the additional responsibilities that come with the holidays push us past our limits, adding an extra layer of stress, anxious thoughts, and mental health struggles to the so-called "best time of the year."

The quest to "keep everyone happy," "do all the things," and "do the holidays right" can leave many of us feeling stressed, overwhelmed and burdened as the year comes to a close. End-of-quarter pressure at work only intensifies the general feeling of too much going on. That's where healthy boundaries come in. Setting boundaries can be challenging, but protecting our mental health can help us feel more positive about this time of year. Boundaries help us take ownership of what we can and cannot do and voice that to the people around us. 

Because they can be hard to understand (and extend), boundaries sometimes get a bad rap. We mistakenly think of them as rules and expectations we impose on others. However, healthy boundaries are more about having a plan to help us respond productively to specific events or circumstances. The most valuable boundaries are all about deciding how you will behave in a given situation and doing just that when said circumstances arise. Better boundaries can make holiday and end-of-year stress easier to handle. But many of us need help establishing healthy boundaries… especially at work.

And better boundaries aren't just crucial to individual wellbeing—they're a key ingredient in organizational health and business success. So how can you incorporate them into your company culture and ways of working?

Here are 3 steps to get you started.

1. Lead by example

When members of leadership clearly and kindly communicate their needs and take action to protect them, employees notice. For example, when a leader says they won't respond to non-urgent messages on days off and follow through (by not responding), they signal to employees that they're not expected to respond to work messages when they're on vacation, either.

2. Roll out a process

To make extending a boundary feel less intimidating, especially for more introverted or junior team members, managers can integrate boundaries into their team's ways of working. Processes make work (and things that happen at work) easier to navigate because they help everyone know what's expected.

When it comes to building boundaries at work, there are three key players: the organization, team leads and individual employees. The organization is responsible for creating and communicating company policies and procedures around ways of working. Team leads are responsible for rolling out team-wide rules of engagement. Finally, individual employees must share their preferences within the guidelines established by the organization and their manager. To make this as easy as possible, upon hire and then regularly, employees could fill out a form or questionnaire to share with the broader team on their preferred ways of working. This could include how people prefer to communicate, collaborate and receive feedback, as well as start and stop times for work.

3. Be flexible

Remind your staff regularly that clear boundaries are vital to working well together and protecting everyone's mental health. But also be clear that boundaries are behaviors, and execution won't always be perfect. Mistakes will be made. The point isn't to ensure 100% compliance… it's to foment understanding, consideration and empathy between people working together and help establish order.

When successfully implemented, boundaries can help protect employees from task overload, mark what's acceptable (and what's not) and generally enable our teams to avoid excess stress in the short term and job burnout in the long term.

Boundaries are essential to prioritizing mental wellbeing and helping employees handle stress year-round, not just during the hectic holiday season. Get more practical advice and resources to help you support your team's mental wellbeing during the holidays in our Holiday Mental Wellbeing Toolkit.

about the author

Koa Health

The Team @ Koa Health

Our diverse team of developers, researchers, psychologists and behavioral health experts work together to create practical, thought-provoking content to accompany our range of digital therapeutics.