Living with chronic condition means even the most joyful holidays can bring extra work when it comes to managing our health needs and our personal and familial expectations.
This is where having a clear understanding of our own boundaries can come in handy.
Boundaries are how we take care of ourselves and show others how to take care of us, too.
When living with a health challenge of any kind, understanding and exploring our evolving needs becomes even more imperative, because our bodies need us to care for them especially well.
Doing the regular work of reassessing our present-day boundaries has a tremendous positive impact on maintaining healthy relationships with ourselves and the people in our lives.
As we approach this holiday season, I invite you to join me for some reflection on your needs and boundaries ahead of time, so you can move toward this special time of year feeling clear and prepared.
Some of us feel pressure to “keep up” energetically with our loved ones who aren’t living with a chronic condition, and that pressure can lead us to disconnect from our needs and breach our own boundaries.
Remember that your ability to show up and be present isn’t just about your level of commitment to your family — it’s also connected to your body’s ability to engage for short or long periods of time.
Whether you’re traveling to visit with loved ones during the holidays or staying close to home, it pays to be especially generous toward yourself and your body in planning for extra rest.
This is important for a couple of reasons:
Even if you’re going for a day trip, there’s a transition involved in getting ready, traveling, arriving, and acclimating to your new environment.
Keep in mind that your body goes through a lot when you travel, so give yourself plenty of time and space to recover.
It takes energy to play and goof around with your favorite kiddos, and it takes energy to tune in for meaningful, and even light, conversation.
When you organize your expectations and plan for more rest than usual, you’re less likely to give yourself a hard time for not “measuring up” energy-wise.
Whether you decide to send a thoughtful group email, or have individual conversations with a few key people, being clear about your needs ahead of time can help everyone support you.
This could look like:
What’s most valuable about this “heads up” approach to communication is that it lays the groundwork for you to get your needs met, and for your loved ones to get concrete examples of how they can be supportive without having to guess.
It can be empowering for you and for them.
Sometimes, communicating directly with folks about your needs may feel like a challenge. Keep in mind that speaking up for your needs is not selfish and actually promotes strong relationships.
Here are some examples of nurturing your connection with your loved ones while asking for what you need:
Many of us try to hide our health needs and experiences so that our relationships feel as smooth, easy, and “normal” as possible.
The truth is, our health challenges are normal for us, even though we may not have chosen them.
Keep in mind that what you’re managing is just as real and important as anything your loved ones manage — health condition or not.
You get to choose how much or little you share with your friends and family. That will always be your decision. That’s the beauty of knowing your own boundaries!
I also invite you to consider where your boundaries may be more solid than is serving you, and where you’re open to giving them more flexibility.
In many cases, I’ve witnessed how being “real” with our loved ones about health challenges can actually strengthen relationships through increasing emotional intimacy.
One of my favorite ways to open up more with friends and family is what I call giving them VIP “behind-the-scenes” access.
I like to imagine pulling back a curtain that allows people to see more than just what’s “on stage” (what we choose to reveal to the world), giving them a sense of the in-the-moment experience we’re having “backstage” (in our internal world).
Here are some examples of how you might share what’s behind the curtain in your world:
Please remember that you’re not meant to live your journey with chronic illness alone.
As imperfect as your experiences may feel, they’re also a point of connection with those who deeply care about you. It may be worth taking a loving risk to let your favorite people get to know you even better.
Boundaries are important for maintaining caring relationships with ourselves and the people we love.
You will always be the person who most understands what you need — and it’s up to you to trust and support yourself in making those boundaries known.
And you get to change your mind! Keep in touch with yourself and your intuition, and let yourself evolve and shift as needed.
Living with a chronic condition calls for even more clarity and advocacy for your needs. I hope this holiday season is filled with supportive communication with your loved ones, a deepening of your relationships with yourself and with them, and time for grace and gentleness around your bandwidth and needs.
Article originally published on November 18, 2020. Last fact checked on November 18, 2020.
Updated October 26, 2022
Medically reviewed on October 26, 2022
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