This time this past year, i was preparing for what we should knew would be an untraditional holidays. I was urged to avoid indoor gatherings, maintain social distancing and follow all possible COVID-19 protocols to keep ourselves and each other safe. One thing on nearly everyone's minds was, “well, a minimum of next year i will be normal again.”

And yet here i am. The pandemic is ongoing. And for many, the holiday season still won't look the same.

Thankfully, with vaccinations, we're able to gather in small, COVID-conscious groups relatively “safely” nowadays. But because we know right now with COVID, there's always some level of risk. As well as in coping with family and extended family or friends, there are also different levels of comfort.

So, that will help you navigate the inevitable awkward moments of when your boundaries don't necessarily complement with certain family members or friends, we spoke with Kelley Stevens, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and Emma Demar, LCSW for help navigating such sensitive situations.

Navigating the Holidays Amidst a Pandemic

Boundaries are essential in virtually every aspect of our way of life, but they are even more important right now. Kelley advises, “It is important to be clear and consistent about your boundaries surrounding pandemic safety. Be sure to communicate all of your boundaries in advance of any gatherings.”

But, this doesn't suggest a dictatorship. If you're invited to someone else's home, Kelley suggests calling ahead and asking what, if any pandemic guidelines they have in position. She explains, “The host is permitted to choose what pandemic guidelines they plan to have for their gathering, and you get to decide regardless if you are comfortable with those guidelines and if you want to attend their event.”

If you're the host, be sure you clearly communicate your personal pandemic guidelines beforehand, to all guests. Nobody likes surprises and understanding what to anticipate ahead of time can help guests feel comfortable, and avoid any unpleasant or uncomfortable moments.

When to Decline

If you're invited to an event that's too big, in which the vaccination status of guests is unknown, or it's outside of your safe place for some other reasons, it is important you feel comfortable declining. “It's completely acceptable and understandable to decline invites,” Emma says, adding, “It's healthy.”

The most effective way to say no an invite is to be concise and clear. “Don't over-explain your reasons or say a lot more than you have to, just as we often do,” she advises.

Similarly, Kelley suggests responding with something similar to, ” 'Thank you for the invitation. This season, us has decided to skip events that ___________ so we won't have the ability to attend. But we actually appreciate your invitation and look forward to getting together the coming year!”

If your boundaries include avoiding indoor events, being around unvaccinated individuals, or avoiding large crowds, it's okay to name them with regard to clarity. The key is in keeping the RSVP short, stating how grateful you are for the invitation, and clearly articulating your boundary without having to be judgmental or shaming.

Communication is Key

When you are looking at differences of opinion, politics, and health things can get pretty ugly, fast. The key to limit just as much unpleasantness and discomfort as possible is to communicate.

Emma says, “I don't believe the concept would be to 'avoid' arguments or tension, as those activities are inevitable and sweeping things underneath the rug isn't advisable.” But, she continues, “it's vital that you know which battles should fight and how much energy you're prepared to share with them.” Going for a take a step back and keeping perspective is essential.

Remember, we've all experienced something unprecedented and quite traumatic, which is your friends and family you're talking about. Although it does not mean make concessions relating to your boundaries or comfort zones, it does present a lot of fun to practice empathy. “Realize that the holidays can bring up anxiety and stress for everyone. Try to understand where other medication is coming from while still standing firm in your boundaries,” says Kelley.

She adds, “Remind yourself that it is okay that you should disagree while still being kind.”

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