The holidays are coming; are you excited? Or are you stressed?
Is there any other time of year that makes us feel so conflicted? We swing between excitement and guilt, like simultaneously hitting the brake pedal and the gas pedal. We want to stop and enjoy all the good moments, creating lifelong memories, yet feel an underlying drive to accelerate into more activity!
Some days, it’s like having seasonal car sickness; jerking back and forth down the Christmas frenzy highway can cause overwhelming emotions!
Pullover, ladies, we need a break!
By the time we reach middle age, we have a good idea of the holiday season challenges. Based on some research, I have created a top ten holiday “stress me out” list. I am sure you can relate to some, if not most, of these situations.
Although there are ten-holiday challenges on this list, there is only ONE answer to each problem. I promise I will share the one-size-fits-all all solution a little farther down in this post
The Top Ten Holiday “Stress Me Out” List
I have put this list into subcategories with headings to make reading it easier.
Holiday Financial Stress
1. Gift-Giving: Do you have to buy the perfect gift for everyone on your list? This pressure can lead to anxiety and overspending. Remember that thoughtful, meaningful gifts don’t have to break the bank. Simplify your gift-giving by setting a budget, making a list, and sticking to it. Don’t forget that experiences like tickets to a show or a restaurant gift card can be as meaningful as a physical gift. Suggest skipping the gift giving for a group donation to a meaningful charity.
2. Financial Burdens: Let’s remember that the holidays can wreak havoc on our bank accounts! Set a realistic budget and look for ways to save, such as shopping during sales or making homemade gifts. Remember, it’s the thought that counts! Look for ways to save money, like DIY decorations or potluck dinners.
There is nothing worse than overspending due to holiday stress. The January credit card statement should not make you cringe when you open it!
Families Can Cause Holiday Stress
3. Family Gatherings: Let’s face it, spending time with family can be both a joy and a pain. If you dread dealing with challenging relatives this holiday season, set boundaries and stick to them. Limit your time with difficult family members and surround yourself with those who uplift and support you. Honestly, some holiday traditions can become overwhelming. Consider simplifying your traditions to ease stress and allow more time for relaxation and enjoyment.
4. Blended Families: The holidays can be particularly tricky for blended families, as schedules, traditions, and expectations may clash. Open communication and flexibility are key to managing potentially tense situations. Be sure to communicate openly with your partner and any children about how you plan to spend the holidays, and try to find a compromise that works for everyone. Above all, remember that love and understanding are key
Holiday Scheduling is Stressful
5. Social Obligations: If you’re hosting holiday guests this year, it can feel like staring into the bright headlight of an oncoming freight train! Make a list and delegate tasks to family members to help relieve some pressure. With all the holiday parties and events, it can be tough to avoid over-committing yourself. Don’t be afraid to refuse invitations that don’t feel right for you or your family.
6. Time Management: The holiday season is notoriously busy, but it’s essential to carve out time for things that matter most, like family, friends, and self-care. With so many extra activities and obligations, don’t get overwhelmed by a packed holiday schedule. Be realistic about how much you can fit into your day, and don’t be afraid to say no to invitations that don’t bring you joy.
7. Self-Care: Don’t make the mistake of putting self-care on the back burner during the holidays. Taking care of yourself is crucial for managing stress and enjoying the season. Make sure to prioritize sleep, exercise, and healthy eating. Take time by creating a relaxing evening routine, taking a yoga class, or booking a massage. It may feel selfish, but you have the right to protect your time and energy during the holidays.
Holiday Stress and Mental Health Concerns
8. Anxiety about expectations: With so much going on during the holiday season, it’s not surprising that anxiety levels can skyrocket. Slowing down and seeking support from loved ones can help alleviate some of the stress and anxiety. Sometimes we set unrealistic expectations for ourselves during the holidays, leading to disappointment and frustration. Remember that it’s okay to enjoy the holidays in a way that feels authentic and meaningful for you.
9. Difficult emotions: The holidays can exacerbate feelings of loneliness, especially for those who don’t have a close support system. If this feels familiar, you should make an extra effort to get involved in enjoyable activities. Ideas like joining a holiday choir, offering time or resources to a meaningful charity, or buying extra dog bones for the local shelter might help you feel more connected to this season.
You may meet some wonderful people and feel good about giving back at the same time. The holiday season can be a time for reflection, and it can be normal for women to become overwhelmed with nostalgia for days gone by. This can be particularly difficult if memories are tied to someone absent. Empty nest grief can be genuine during the holidays. Missing your kids is normal; let yourself process the emotions that pop up during the holidays.
10. Overcommitting: It’s easy to fall into the trap of overcommitting during the holidays, whether attending every party and event or volunteering for every school function. It’s essential to prioritize and take a step back when necessary. It’s crucial to find a balance during the holiday season. Your home does not have to be “ground zero” for all holiday activities. Take a break and let someone else host the family gatherings.
Do You Hate the Holidays?
Okay, friend, is there anything you can relate to on this list? Hopefully, you are experiencing only some of these holiday challenges. Frankly, just having a few can make you feel tired and overwhelmed!
I promised you a single solution to your feelings of holiday overwhelms- I haven’t forgotten!
Are you ready?
The Key to Manage Holiday Stress
The one thing you need to deal with holiday stress and overwhelm is this: give yourself permission.
You need to give yourself permission to make changes to your approach to the holidays.
Thoughtfully and intentionally use the word “no.”
Remember, the word “no” is a complete sentence. Or, if you want to be extra polite, “No, thank you!” You will stay in the holiday frenzy cycle unless you give yourself the freedom to pare down your schedule. Here are some firm but polite ways to socially say “NO.”
- Thanks for the invitation, but I am going to pass this time.
- That sounds amazing, but I don’t have any extra room in my schedule.
- I love that you thought of me, but I can’t make it happen this time.
- I wish I could help but am completely tapped out for extra commitments.
- Volunteering for charity is important, but I can only commit financially this year.
- I am evaluating my financial commitments this season; I will let you know if I can say yes to a donation.
- I am choosing a more minimalistic approach to my holidays; I am going to pass on the gift exchange.
How to Say “No” Without Feeling Guilty
The beauty of being a grown person is that you can decide what you allow into your life. Many of us have been taught that saying “no” during the holidays is rude and uncharitable. It’s time to permit yourself to make healthy choices that support your holiday schedule.
Say No and Set Boundaries
One of the best things we can do in personal development is create boundaries. Boundaries are the invisible lines we draw to help others stay out of our business. Boundaries teach others how to treat us and help us decide what we want to allow in our lives.
Another way to think of boundaries is: what to let in and what to keep out of our lives. Or said another way, when to say yes and when to say no.
Allowing ourselves to have boundaries is the first step to managing holiday stress. If we don’t understand that we are worthy of choosing what to do with our time and energy, we will continue running the holiday hamster wheel. Aren’t you ready to stop the spin cycle and move toward a balanced holiday season?
Boundaries and Self-Respect
Let’s talk about the idea of giving ourselves permission. Culturally, women have been trained to serve others; we are more nurturing at our core, and it becomes heightened by our social messages. For many of us, the message we received growing up was: When we are taking care of others, we are at our “best,” or we are living our “highest calling” (that language might have been used in your faith community).
Nurturing is an important character trait that all genders should display. But somehow, for women, we often measure our worth and value by the depth of our ability to sacrifice ourselves. This has led to a population of unconsciously resentful and furious women who cannot express their negative emotions.
Setting Boundaries Around Holiday Expectations
Learning to give yourself permission to set boundaries is a critical skill. Developing beliefs that reinforce your worth and preferences is not selfish. You are a valid human with important desires, preferences, and needs. It’s healthy to put yourself first in some situations, no matter what you have been taught previously.
Ask the following questions to help you identify your core values around holidays.
- What part of the holidays feels chaotic to me?
- Are there parts of the holiday season that I want to stop participating in?
- How does my body feel when I think about certain family expectations and traditions?
- Can I be truthful about my dislike for parts of my family celebrations?
- How can I communicate my preferences using neutral language?
- What three things would I get rid of during the holiday season?
- Are there things that I would choose to do instead?
- Am I willing to permit myself to set boundaries around my use of time and emotional energy?
Boundaries for Family
Maybe you want to decrease your holiday stress level but don’t know how to share it with family and friends. Try saying something like this:
Hey, I have been thinking about the holidays and how it makes my stress levels soar. I will be making some changes this year to help me reduce my stress and protect my energy. After spending some time thinking about our traditions, I realized that I don’t enjoy these activities. So, I am giving myself permission to let those things go.
I would rather spend my energy and time on these things, so I will be choosing activities that make me feel energized and happy. It’s okay if you are disappointed with my changes; I get it. But I want to be honest with myself, and truthfully, I know that I will enjoy the holiday season even more as a result of my choices.
I appreciate you listening to me. Thank you for supporting my decisions, and I can’t wait to go ice skating with the whole family this year!
Boundaries for a Healthy Relationship
Remember, someone will likely feel upset about your new boundaries. And that is okay; they have the right to react emotionally to your decision. This is the moment that you need to be prepared for when someone expresses a negative response to your decision.
You might feel a sense of anxiety or doom in your body before you share your new holiday plans. That is normal, our bodies hold our emotions, and sometimes we feel stress in our bodies. Take some deep breaths, pause for a moment to feel your inner strength, and remember that you can make decisions that reflect your choices!
Permitting ourselves to set boundaries can be scary and exciting. It might be a little bumpy at first, but once you realize that without boundaries, you are letting others decide your holiday schedule, it will become easier for you to share what you want.
Bring on the Holidays, You Are Ready for Changes!
So, the holidays are coming- are you ready to make some changes? Remember, a parked car doesn’t go anywhere.! If you don’t permit yourself to set boundaries, you will stay in the same stressful space. Choosing small actions, aptly named micro-changes, invites the possibility of a different outcome.
And truthfully, if we are not changing, then we are stuck.
One of the saddest things is to get to the end of your life and realize that you didn’t give yourself permission to truly live. There are no second chances; this is your one life- don’t waste it performing to please other people!
Holiday activities should reflect your interests and bring you joy. Go ahead and give yourself permission to reduce your stress levels this year!
Please share your best ideas for reducing holiday stress in the comments below!
Melane Ann is a writer, blogger, and life coach. In 2020, she turned her experience in midlife divorce and creating a new life for herself into midlifeismagical. With a master's in Marriage and Family Therapy, Melane focuses on helping women over 50 navigate their relationships and commit to healthy aging. She and her new husband share 7 children between them. Melane jokes that she has a black belt in blended families! In addition to her writing, Melane works virtually with her coaching clients from her home office.