During the holiday season, another party invitation can feel like another worry on your shoulders instead of a joyous get together. But, there may be a nagging feeling that we are obligated to attend every pot-luck, every white elephant, every cookie exchange. We may ask ourselves why we don’t want to participate in everything. But, the question we should be asking is why do we feel obligated to attend everything? Furthermore, why do some of us allow our mental health to suffer during what should be a happy time?
Mental Health and the Holidays
You’re not alone in feeling extra stressful during the holidays. 64% of people report having the “holiday blues,” or experience symptoms of depression and anxiety during this time of year. It is a hectic time of year and we tend to layer the responsibilities of daily life with our perceived holiday responsibilities. Learning your limitations and managing your expectations is an essential part of staying mentally clear and healthy. What are some of the things you can do?
- Set boundaries. This can be boundaries with your time, activities, and financial obligations. Keep these boundaries in mind when possible new obligations pop up. When you have a firm line in the sand, it makes it easier not to cross it.
- Stay active. We know the cold months make you want to snuggle under the blanket with hot cocoa, but keeping active will boost your serotonin levels which also give your brain a happiness boost.
- Surround yourself with people that make you happy. Family, friends, whoever it is, make sure you are around the people that bring you joy during the holidays. Lower your stress level and re-energize by engaging in fun activities that you actually enjoy, not the ones you feel like you have to go to.
How to Say NO
We often over-commit ourselves, leaving little time for our own needs. Learning how to say no can be a difficult process, but a necessary one that will help you long after this holiday season has passed. For those that need a little “no” guidance, the following may come in handy.
- Decline sooner rather than later. Don’t leave a “no” till the last minute. Letting someone know early on that you won’t be attending or participating gives them time to prepare accordingly and leaves little time for awkward questions if you run into them at the grocery store.
- Leave the explanations to a minimum. Sometimes there’s simply no need to fill the silence after a “no” with a big explanation as to why. Remember, you do not need to have an explanation. Stick to an easy “I’m sorry I won’t be able to make it to the gingerbread house construction contest this year. I hope you have a wonderful time.” If any follow-up questions are asked, be brief, truthful, and kind.
- Be compassionate, but firm. You are not responsible for the feelings of others. Someone may be disappointed that you are unable to attend their Christmas Eve Chili Cook-Off, but you cannot fix that. If a follow-up discussion happens, begin with “I understand you’re disappointed…” or “I know it’s not what you were expecting…” Sometimes the acknowledgment of feelings is all the other person is asking. If you can accomplish that while knowing your own limitations, you’re already ahead of the game.
- Suggest a new event at a later time. Sometimes there are conflicts we can’t see ourselves out of. In these cases, making an alternative plan shows your interest while still being able to say no. For example, “I won’t be able to make it, but I would love to go to coffee on Tuesday if you’re available.” This will soften the “no” a bit for both parties. Just remember to save this option for the people you truly want to see.
Choose What REALLY Matters To You And Your Family
Sometimes we continue with our previous commitments and traditions because we feel set in them. But if every year you dread making the cookies for a cookie exchange, why do you even do it? Part of having a stress-free holiday is about prioritizing the things that are important to you and your family.
Saying “yes” to every holiday invitation and demand could leave you exhausted, frustrated, and even broke. So before you commit to something, ask yourself the following questions…
- Will I get joy out of this?
- Will the joy of other’s (family, friends, etc.) be worth my participation?
- Is there something else I want to do that I will miss out on by participating?
If the answer to two out of three is a “no,” then politely decline. Once you have a system of prioritization in place, saying “yes” and “no” will become easier and easier. And remember, if you deem everything a “priority,” then NOTHING is an actual priority.
Low-Stress Helpful Holiday Tips
No matter how hard you try, there will always be a few holiday hiccups. But you can save yourself a lot of time, effort, and mental energy with just these helpful reminders.
Do Everything Early
One major thing you can do to spread out that holiday madness is to do things as early as you can. Waiting until the “last minute” causes unnecessary stress and sleep loss, which can ultimately cause you to feel frazzled, and not present in the moment. A few helpful ideas are…
- Wrap gifts as you buy them. Instead of waiting until the night before gift giving. Set aside time to wrap them as they’re purchased. Many department stores will also have gift wrapping available.
- Prep food throughout the week. Eating a big holiday dinner? Get your mise en place in order throughout the week so you aren’t scrambling to peel carrots while making sure the turkey isn’t drying out.
- Organize your living spaces. With the holidays come holiday visitors. Set aside some time before the season is in full swing to take donations to your local charities, and deep clean any areas you’ve been putting off till now. Having a livable and workable space will give you peace of mind when those unexpected visitors show up, and will ultimately help you to feel less chaotic (read: stressed!).
Be A Little Selfish With Your Time
Self-care during the holidays is so important. With everything you’re doing for everyone else, it’s easy to forget that this is a special time for you as well. Pull some time away from family, friends, work, etc., to do something that is only for yourself. Just 15 minutes a day will help you relax and unwind. Afterwards, your ability to focus on your tasks will greatly improve, and your ability to take care of those around you will be unmatched.
What are some of your low-stress holiday tips? Let us know if the comments below, or on Facebook or Twitter.