As part of my commitment to shine a light on mental health and support all women and mothers via the content on my blog, I’m delighted to share another incredible article by Dr. Allison Niebes-Davis, a licensed clinical psychologist and the founder of Dr. Allison Answers.
Have you noticed how many of us love the holiday season and at the same time, feel super stressed out? It’s a strange mix. We seem to love the sugar cookies, festive décor, and cozy nights by the fire, but when it comes down to it, we’re dragging our families kicking and screaming to see Santa and staying up till midnight baking holiday treats for yet another party. You start out festive and excited, hitting a wall mid-December, feeling stressed and exhausted.
Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be this way. It’s totally possible to truly enjoy the holiday season, keeping your sanity and holiday spirit intact. Here’s how:
O N E
Say “no.”It seems obvious, but the easiest way to reduce your stress this holiday season is to say “no” more often. Decide what is most important to you, and say no to the rest. Say “no” to the holiday party with your “I feel obligated friends.” Take a hard pass on the tradition that everyone in your family grumbles about but still feels obligated to do. And say “no” to cooking a fancy meal, instead leaning on your trusty crockpot.
People often feel guilty about saying “no” to things. But here’s the truth. By saying “no” to one thing, you’re saying “yes” to something else. “Yes” to preserving your sanity. “Yes” to quality time with your kids. And “yes” to spending your energy on things that really matter. You can’t do it all this holiday season, and if you try, you’ll crash and burn. So lean into the discomfort and learn to say “no.”
PS: If you have a hard time saying “no” in the moment, feeling put on the spot, use my favorite phrase, “Let me get back to you.” This buys you some time, and then once you’re out of the situation, you can think more clearly about whether or not you really want to commit. If not, you can compose your “no thanks” a little more thoughtfully and without all the pressure.
T W O
Focus on experiences. Right now, I want you to think back to your favorite holiday memories from childhood. I bet 90 percent of them involve experiences, not things. People rarely remember all the gifts they got or who was wearing what. They don’t remember how much money you spent or how well the wrapping paper coordinated. People remember experiences and the emotions associated with them.
Several years ago, we stopped exchanging gifts with our best friends, instead opting for dinner at an adorably quaint Filipino restaurant in Chicago. We get it on the books around mid-November, and come snow or slush, we make it happen. It’s one of my favorite holiday memories, and I look forward to it all season.
Forget the stuff. Embrace experiences, and be diligent about this shift. Your stress level will go down, and you’ll make more meaningful memories in the process.
T H R E E
Pay attention to grief. Grief is one of the most universal human experiences, yet we all experience it so differently. In my clinical work, one thing I’ve noticed is that the holidays almost always bring up feelings of grief. They’re not always loud or pronounced feelings; sometimes they’re subtle and soft. Sometimes they come out of nowhere and catch you completely off guard.
Sometimes the grief is about a recent loss; sometimes it’s about a loss from years ago. Sometimes the grief is related to a death, but sometimes the grief is related to a relationship that’s not what you want it to be.
In 1969, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross introduced her stages of grief model, outlining how humans move through grief. These stages include: Denial and Isolation, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. But newer research has shown that we don’t move through these stages in a linear, step by step way, as Kubler-Ross initially believed. Instead, these are themes present throughout our grief, and we can move between them in various orders and at different times. The holidays often prompt a shift from one stage to the next, as memories, pain, and longing come to the surface.
Take time to think about how grief might be impacting you this holiday season. It might not be loud and pronounced, but if it’s there, it’s definitely adding to your stress.
F O U R
Give to someone else. Did you know that spending money on others can improve your emotional well-being? This relationship, known as prosocial spending,has been documented in both rich and poor countries, and it has all sorts of benefits, including increased happiness and decreased stress.
Many organizations run campaigns and drives during the holiday season, and giving to those can be an easy way to share with others. But I encourage you to also think about giving in a more focused and specific way. To a neighbor, to a family in your child’s class who is still recovering from a devasting loss, or to the person behind you in the Starbucks line. Sometimes your brain needs to see this person, helping yourself register the emotion that played out as a result of your giving.
Your gift doesn’t have to be big or expensive. It just needs to be a way to say, “I see you, I’m thinking of you, and I’m giving something of mine to honor and celebrate you.” This has a unique two-pronged benefit, as it gives both the other person and you a boost of joy and happiness. Think this sounds too good to be true? Spend money on someone else, and see what happens!
F I V E
Stay committed with self-care, particularly sleep. When you’re stressed, it’s easy to throw self-care out the window. This is particularly true with sleep. You stay up later, skip your workouts, and consider cookies a new food group. Self-care is one of the things that puts gas in your gas tank. So when you slack on self-care, you’re reducing your brain’s ability to tackle and respond to stress. Keep your normal bed time, and keep chugging your green juice. Self-care is a real thing.
Remember, the holidays don’t have to be stressful. You have a choice in how you handle them. So get serious about these five strategies, and keep your sanity this holiday season!
Dr. Allison Niebes-Davis is a licensed clinical psychologist and the founder of Dr. Allison Answers, a website designed to simplify psychology to help people live healthy and meaningful lives. She finds a balance between the science and the practical, making her content completely relevant to your daily life. Her favorite buzzwords include courage, authenticity, gratitude, and intentionality. She completed her PhD in Counseling Psychology from Texas A&M University, and prior to that, she received a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from the University of Oklahoma. In addition to psychology, she’s a fan of oversized earrings, college football, and snail mail. Connect with her on her website, YouTube, and Instagram.