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Saying No to Holiday Stress

December 12, 2022

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Years ago, when I was a newspaper reporter working full-time and raising two young children as a single mother, I went to see my doctor.  I was tired and achy, and couldn’t seem to shake my flu-like symptoms.

Dr. Woodward looked over my chart and said, “Do you know that you have been to see me for the last five years – always at this time of year?”  (It was mid-December.)  “You probably need to lessen your stress at holiday time,” he said.

Ha, I thought!  Easier said than done.  But, of course, he was right. 

One might be a state legislator, or a company CEO, or a waitress, or a full-time mother working at home.   It doesn’t matter. It seems that most women feel driven to provide the “perfect” holiday season for our families.  

Perhaps because our mothers did that, we daughters take up the Yuletide mantle.  Interestingly, most men do not.  Are men ever asked, “Are you ready for Christmas?” 

My children are grown now, and they have given me lovely grandchildren.  But a niggle of anxiety still pops up each year after Thanksgiving is over and Christmas is on the horizon.  Or, as the English playwright Noel Coward famously said, “Christmas is at our throats again.”

 I was interested, therefore, in an article published recently in Her Money that was titled “19 Female Leaders on Saying No to Holiday Stress.”  Some of their advice was quite useful, including:

  • Use Your Hands for Something Besides Typing on a Keyboard or Tapping a Screen.  Bake some family recipes, perhaps, or start a home renovation project, or just play with your pet.
  • Outsource What You Can.  Have your holiday dinner catered or buy the side dishes at the grocery store.  You could even hire professionals to decorate the outside of your house.  Even better, skip the decorating and enjoy touring your neighborhood to view   others’ lights and tinsel.
  • Don’t Be Afraid to Say ‘No’.  Parties and other Yule events are back this year after more than two years of Covid cancellations. Still, if you don’t really, really want to attend, just say no.
  • Set and Stick to – Strong Boundaries. Put your holiday working hours in your email signature so it’s very clear when you will – and won’t – be available.  Also, take some time off. It’s OK.
  • Find Your NonNegotiables.  It might be meditating, or walking every morning, or journaling, or taking an hour each week to catch up with a loved one. Don’t let these go by the boards.
  • Set Working-from-Home Boundaries.  If you work from home, keep your work confined to a home office or a separate space.  And don’t multitask between meetings, such as throwing in a load of laundry.  This “context shifting” takes your focus away from work, thereby taking longer to get back in the zone.
  • Leave Town.  One of the best holidays I ever had was taking my son to Costa Rica, where his sister was studying at the time.  No holiday cards, no cooking, no shopping that year. The trip was our Christmas, and it was a wonderful, stress-free holiday.
  • Make the Holidays What You Want, Not What’s Expected.  If you love going all-out decorating and cooking and gift-buying, have at it.  But if that stresses you, do minimal decorating or none at all.  Ditto for holiday cooking.  And, do some of your shopping online, something we’ve all gotten expert at since Covid.

Finally, I’ll add one of my own.  Skip the Christmas Cards (mostly).  This year, instead of my usual 25 or 30, I’m sending three:  to two friends in New Zealand and to my daughter’s in-laws in Ireland.  International only.

Jan Collins 2021-circle-crop

Jan Collins is a Columbia, South Carolina-based journalist, editor, and author. A former Nieman Fellow at Harvard and former Congressional Fellow in Washington, D. C., she is the coauthor of Next Steps: A Practical Guide to Planning for the Best Half of Your Life (Quill Driver Books, 2009).

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