By Tracey Dowdy
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, unless spending time with family means days filled with conflict and tension. Or, your children have wish lists that read more like a ransom note. Or, you’re already well over-budget, and it’s not even December yet.
There are as many reasons the holidays can be stressful as there are reasons your great-aunt Esther needs to be reminded you can’t believe everything you read on Facebook. An American Psychological Association study found women experience more holiday stress than men. Just 25% of women say they get a chance to relax during the holidays, and 44 percent report higher stress levels between Thanksgiving and Christmas. And according to an online survey of 1000 adults by Pure Profile, men spend 53 hours preparing for the holidays, while women spend even more at a whopping 83 hours. “Holiday stress has a particular impact on women, who take charge of many of the holiday celebrations, particularly the tasks related to preparing meals and decorating the home. Women are more likely than men to report an increase of stress during the holiday season. In addition, they have a harder time relaxing during the holidays and are more likely to fall into bad habits to manage their stress, like comfort eating.”
Janet Hibbs, therapist and coauthor of “Try to See It My Way: Being Fair in Love and Marriage” puts it this way, “Women’s holiday stress often represents the pressure of creating holiday magic for their children, partners, and the real and imagined audiences of their own parents,” says B.. “Childhood memories of gingerbread houses, decorations, wrapped presents, special foods, as well as familial and religious traditions pose unconscious expectations.”
So how do we avoid falling into this trap? Well, Dr. John A Call, psychologist and president of Crisis Management Consultants recommends that you start by determining what stresses you out. “Is it a certain situation, a particular person, or that long list of things to do? Realizing what gives you stress is the first step to managing it.”
The next step is to think about how you manage your stress. Be careful of unhealthy behaviors like turning to alcohol or stress-related eating and instead find healthier responses like exercise or talking with your partner or friends.
Should you determine that your coping mechanisms are unhealthy, don’t beat yourself up – you’re trying to reduce stress, remember? Instead, give yourself grace and make a better choice next time. One of the best things you can do for yourself is simply put yourself to bed. According to the American Psychological Association, “Sleep is so crucial that even slight sleep deprivation or poor sleep can affect memory, judgment and mood.”
Don’t be afraid to ask for help from family and friends. Many are willing to help but don’t know how to ask or what to offer. Conversely, many of us want help but don’t know how to delegate. Be honest, be humble, and don’t be afraid to reach out.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, learn to say “No.” There’ll be a thousand demands placed on you in the coming weeks. Many of them will be good things, but learn to separate the good from the great. Determining where your priorities lie and determining to keep them first allows you the freedom to say no, even to family and friends. Whenever possible, use these magic words, “Let me get back to you,” if asked to take on another project, volunteer opportunity or accept an invitation. It’s like hitting the pause button – it gives you time to check your calendar, talk to your partner, and may prompt the person asking to look for alternatives in case you decline the request.
If you say no, you’re of course under no obligation to offer a reason, but having an honest answer as simple as, “It doesn’t work with my schedule this year,” softens your response. It’s also a softer answer than a hard, “No,” and like the proverb says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.