Women aren’t alone in sweating the stress of the holiday season, but the brunt of holiday work and worry in many families often falls disproportionately on women’s shoulders. Balancing work, family and holiday planning – all the complex details of shopping, cooking and travel – is a major challenge. And, taking care of oneself can often fall to the bottom of the list. But, making sure to eat well, clock enough sleep time and get regular exercise can help women manage the stress. Practicing a few time-tested stress management techniques can also help women feel more empowered and energized during the busy holiday season.
Make a Plan
Making a plan at the beginning of the season will set you on a path to navigate the holidays with more ease, from setting a budget to dog-earing gift catalog pages to scheduling time for yourself to get enough sleep.
“People who plan will not only stick to their budgets [and schedules], but they will also be more productive because they can map out the holiday season,” says Dr. Tiffany Lowe-Payne, a North Carolina-based family physician and the author of “A Woman’s Guide to De-Stress for Success.” Finding a quiet moment to set your plan to paper is a way of taking control of what can otherwise be a chaotic swirl of events and tasks. Your plan will also be a comforting reference point to return to as the season unfolds.
Set Reasonable Expectations
Women notoriously place unreasonably high expectations on themselves, imagining themselves to be flawless multi-taskers, seamless keepers of family traditions and master event planners.
“We get caught up in making things absolutely perfect,” says Lowe-Payne. This perfectionism often backfires, leaving us mired in the concern that we don’t measure up. Consider these expectation-adjusters:
- Draw names from a hat to spread gift-giving around a large family.
- Relocate one holiday meal from your table to a restaurant where you can enjoy everyone’s company without prep or cleanup.
- Delegate tasks to relatives and guests, including kids. Assign duties such as decorating, gift wrapping and preparing dishes for a potluck meal.
“We don’t have to be heroes, we don’t have to handle everything by ourselves,” says Lowe-Payne.
Know the Signs of Stress
“Stress affects just about every part of your body,” says Lowe-Payne, so the first step in combating stress is knowing what it looks and feels like in your body. “Before the brick wall falls on you, you get the tiny pebbles, the subtle signals that you’re doing too much,” she says.
Fatigue, difficulty falling asleep and disturbed sleep, stomach upset, body aches and headaches are classic physical stress responses. Feelings of depression or anxiety can also result from unmanaged stress.
If you feel stress symptoms building up in your body, try one of the relaxation tips below. If your symptoms start to feel unmanageable, consider seeking advice from your doctor or a counselor.
Find Your Relaxation Rescue
Everyone can find a healthy stress-reliever that works for them, even during the busy holiday season. Meditation or prayer, depending on your personal spirituality, can have a significant impact on managing stress, as can exercise. For some people, cooking seasonal foods or baking holiday cookies is a soothing activity. A favorite holiday movie or allowing for an earlier bedtime may help others unwind.
Anything that gives you the chance to become absorbed in something pleasurable, that takes you out of your long list of holiday have-tos and reconnects you with a place of calm and peace, can save your day – and your holiday.