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How to Handle Holiday Stress: One Simple Question to Ask Yourself

How to Handle Holiday Stress: One Simple Question to Ask Yourself

You may be asking yourself right now “How do I handle holiday stress effectively?”

The holidays are an opportunity to slow down and reconnect with those with love. Yet, this is also a season filled with more stress for many of us. This absolutely makes sense. There is already so much pressure on us year-round to look and act a certain way. These expectations only intensify during the holidays. Who among us doesn’t have an idealized version of the holidays in our mind? For me, one just came to mind filled with romance, hot chocolate, fire places, cozy sweaters, and loving warmth. Did an image come to your mind of the perfect holiday season?

Your holiday wishes matter

What you most desire to create over the holiday season is worth honoring. It is absolutely a wonderful time to celebrate, have more joy, reconnection, and relaxation! But to truly makes this time meaningful, it’s important to become clear on what matters most to you. Over my 11 years as a therapist, one truth has become abundantly clear: We cannot have it all in our human lives. This is true no matter what we are told. However, you can absolutely have what matters most to you and create the authentic life of your dreams!

You have internalized a list of “shoulds” throughout your life about who you “should” be, how you “should” look, how you “should” act, & how you “should” celebrate. This is true for all of us. As human beings, we are social creatures constantly scanning what we need to do to belong. Yet, living based on what others expect of us rather than what we most desire is a recipe for burn out, regret, and resentment.

Instead, for true happiness, it’s important to live according to your personal values. When you are connected to your values, you can live with integrity. Very simply, integrity means wholeness. When your daily life reflects your values, you will experience the peace, joy, & pride that living with intention allows.

What do you need to say “Yes” to?

To reduce holiday stress, ask yourself, what do you most value. You may identify your values for the holiday season by asking yourself: What is my vision of the best holiday season? Then let yourself dream and write it out. Then look back and note what sounds truly meaningful to you.

My ideal vision?

My husba to host for the first time Thanksgiving meal with my husband, my cousins and their families. We have a relaxed time catching up and enjoying a good meal.  Those of us who want to will go on a walk together before dessert. My husband and I will decorate the tree and hang lights shortly after this holiday. My husband and I will host another Thanksgiving meal to connect with his mother (and her dog). It’s important to me to spend time with my family to go to see holiday lights. I will give some thoughtful gifts that I know will be useful. I will celebrate Christmas Eve with tamales and holiday movies with my husband. Finally, Christmas will be a relaxed meal with his mother. We will make his family’s traditional Italian holiday meal.

I notice that spending relaxed time with my loved ones is the priority. Now, I get to say “yes” to anything that will cultivate this relaxed connection. Which includes making holiday plans and planning out the holiday meals. I will shop for groceries in advance while not putting pressure on myself to cook everything from scratch.

What do you notice when you map out your ideal vision? If you need support identifying your value, please just leave a comment with what you want to create.

What do you need to say “No” to?

One of the biggest stressors during the holiday season is related to trying to please everyone. This is an impossible mission. Every person has too many unique desires to gain everyone’s approval during any time of year; including the holidays.


The pathway to your most peaceful holiday season yet is saying “yes” to allows you to live with integrity while saying “no” to all the rest. Remember, no person can have it all. We cannot have the perfectly decorated and tidy home, cook everything from scratch, buy every gift we would like for everyone, do every holiday activity we dream of (looking at lights, decorating cookies, watching holiday movies, volunteering etc.), say “yes” to every holiday invitation while still maintaining our sense of peace and avoiding burn-out.

This means to reduce holiday stress, you must say “no” throughout the season. (This is true for effective stress management year-round.)

Since I value “relaxed connection” I am saying no to the things which make me feel anxious. While I love cooking from scratch, I’m saying “no” to making everything without help on Thanksgiving. I want to make all my favorites and doing this from scratch is too much work. (I tried to make green bean casserole once with homemade cream of mushroom soup and it was a disaster I never want to live through again.) I’m also saying “no” to being responsible for all the food on Thanksgiving. I’ve asked my guests to bring dishes as well.

I’m also committed to saying “no” to acquiring debt over the season which admittedly will take a lot more . The financial burdens of holiday is a large stressor for many of us, myself included. But taking on debt which I’m responsible for long after the season is the opposite of “relaxed connection” so I’m saying “no.” This means that while I have fantasies of being abundantly generous with the people in my life I must hold myself accountable to being more creative, thoughtful, and budget-savvy. I’m still brainstorming thoughtful gifts which don’t accrue debt. I’m committed to living with integrity though and I’ll figure this out.

What do you need to say “no” to because it doesn’t allow you to live according to your values?

If you value joy, you may need to say “no” to seeing certain family members who overwhelm you. (This isn’t rude. You’re not obligated to see people just because you’re related to them.) You may need to say “no” to holiday traditions which remind you of painful or unhappy memories. You may need to say “no” to debt because that’s no fun. You may need to say “no” to the company holiday party.

If you value love, you may need to say “no” to guilting family members to come visit you. You may need to say “no” to being critical of yourself, your home, or your loved ones over the season. You may need to say “no” to doing or buying things for the people in your life as a substitute for your presence with them. You may need to say “no” to falsely believing you are all alone during the season.

Related: How to Cope if You’re Lonely During the Holidays

Reducing Stress Year-Round

There are 7 different types of boundaries: physical, financial, sexual, intellectual, emotional, material, and time. Throughout your life, you will have opportunities to set these boundaries to have more confidence, joy, peace, and success. Boundaries are a necessary component of a healthy life because they allow you to feel safe. (Truly, there is nothing more important than feeling safe as you are in a state of survival where you can’t think clearly otherwise.)

During the holidays, your time and financial boundaries are especially relevant.

Say “yes” to spending time to what allows you to honor your holiday values. Please accept that no matter how much you want to, you cannot do it all this season without a tremendous amount of stress. Say “no” to spending your time doing things which don’t allow you to live with integrity. All boundaries are personal so what you need to say “yes” to and what you need to say “no” to is unique for each person. You can’t look at anyone else’s holiday planner and replicate it while living with integrity.

If you create a budget, this is a very real financial boundary. A part of healthy boundaries is not only being a safe person for other people, but a safe person for yourself. One way to be a safe person for yourself is to respect your budget for the holidays whatever it may be. You will have to say “no” to all the commercialism attached to the season. You will have to say “no” to what you can’t afford no matter how much you want to right now. This allows you to be safe from holiday debt in the New Year. What a relief and special gift to yourself. (You deserve it.)

Finally, I completely understand that while it may sound clear, saying “no” often brings up many challenging emotions like stress, fear, confusion, guilt, and a fear of being rude. Yet, the only way to have reduce your stress during the holidays (and beyond) is to get comfortable with “no” as a part of your vocabulary. I know how hard this process can be though. I struggled for years to even know what I needed to say “no” to – I was uncertain about my needs, wants, and values. I felt guilt when I noticed I need to set boundaries. I was terrified I’d be rejected. So for years, I stayed silent (and anxious and resentful).

I don’t want you to have to struggle like I did with saying “no” so I created my 4-week course “Confidently Authentic: Stop People Pleasing and Start Being True to Yourself” which covers my entire healthy boundaries system. If you’re ready to stop feeling unnecessary stress (and guilt) in your life, I truly hope to support you within the community!

Your Happiest Holiday Season Yet

Learning how to say “yes” to what matters and no to the rest is going to allow you to enjoy this holiday season like never before. I cannot wait to hear what you create for yourself! Please feel free to share your authentic values for the season and what you’re saying “yes” and “no” to!


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