Let It Go and Just Say ‘NO’ to Holiday Stress

May this season bring you all the joy you deserve, and no matter what this year brought us as individuals, we all deserve joy as the holidays are celebrated. Unfortunately, stress is too often a part of the holiday season.  Minimizing or eliminating it can enhance this joy that is our right.

My hope is that every part of the holiday season and its accompanying festivities brings you nothing but joy.  If this is the case, read no further and have another blessed holiday.  You are a gift in and of yourself.  If, however, you do feel any stress – a little or a lot, please read on, and may you find at least one way to reduce or eliminate that stress.  You deserve it.

Most of us say ‘yes’ to invitations, gifts, requests to host, and to donate time, money and energy to worthy causes.  These things bring us joy, for the most part, except when they don’t.  When they don’t, we don’t have to agree to them, unfortunately, most of us don’t even think that ‘no’ is an option.  Sometimes, it is.


Stress can be defined by any event, stimulus or action that produces an emotional, mental or physical feeling of discomfort in its mildest form, to extreme pain in its most severe form.  Physical stress is often inflicted upon us from external sources.  Always, emotional/mental stress is induced from within.  It is our perception of an event that causes stress, not the event itself.  Granted, there are some life events that inevitably cause emotional stress, such as loss of a loved one, illness, financial woes, and family discord.  It is nearly impossible as a feeling, caring human being to NOT feel stressed by these extreme events. We all must experience some of this kind of heartbreak in our lives, there seems to be no way to skate through life without it.

On the grand scale, however, there are many stressors that rank much lower on the scale of life-changing, negative occurrences.  Many of these perceived stressors manifest themselves around the holidays, mostly because we have chosen, once again, to let them in.   It is part of our package of traditions that we unwrap every year, unwittingly or with full realization.  We sign up for much of our own misery without conscious awareness, simply because it is what we have always done.

So why not take a step back and take another look at these things that stress us out?  Why not evaluate them as an outside observer, as a task-master assigned to simplify and dovetail obligations and responsibilities into one smooth, efficient process?  Re-evaluate the necessity and worth of every obligation – large and small – and determine if perhaps some of them can be reduced or eliminated.

The list of stressors could be inexhaustible, but around the holidays, the following are some of the most common for the average American:

Choosing and buying gifts – often gifts that are not necessary, reciprocated, appreciated, or affordable.

Not having enough money to buy these gifts that may not be necessary, reciprocated, appreciated or affordable.

Family obligations – feeling that you have no choice but to spend time with family members who may not bring you joy at this time of year—or any time of year, for that matter.

Conflicts of time/expenditures on one’s family vs. one’s in-laws.  Many married couples struggle to allocate time and money fairly between both families.

Feeling overwhelmed with host/hostessing obligations.  Perhaps you have always been the one to invite the entire family to your home, providing the perfect eleven-course Christmas dinner with little or no help buying, preparing or cleaning up the food and dishes, just plenty of help eating it.  If you have always done it from year to year, and never complained, then everyone likely thinks you will continue to do it, and that you even enjoy it.  Hopefully you do, but if you don’t, you have the right to re-think it, and do it differently next year.

Feeling the need to decorate your home lavishly, because you always have, and it is your tradition.  Consider paring down on the number of decorations, perhaps even parting with some that are not sentimental.  You don’t have to have the most and brightest lights on your house to show up the entire neighborhood.  Let someone else on your block pay the ridiculous electricity bill next month.

Continuing to force yourself to churn out incredible pans of cookies, fudge, candies and other baked goods to give to people who probably have more than they want or need to eat already.  Consider doing this at another time of year, letting them know that you have chosen to give when perhaps the giving will be more needed and appreciated.

Feeling bombarded with requests to donate money to charitable causes.  Many people maximize their giving at the end of the year to take advantage of tax breaks, and this is always a good idea if your tax situation and income level allows it.  Charitable giving to legitimate causes is always a good idea within your budget.  Be aware of scam requests, as this time of year unfortunately brings out the worst in many organizations that perhaps do not use the money as they say they will.  There are plenty of good causes out there, just be sure you do your homework.

Rushing to get the cards/annual holiday letter sent out to the long list of people you send it to every year.  Consider taking a family picture at another time of year, and sending it as a holiday card in July, Thanksgiving, or any day of your choosing.

This list is not complete; each one of us will likely experience unique feelings and situations that may be less common than these.  There are situations that, when they coincide with the holidays, the stress can be overwhelming, understandable, and hard for anyone to shake.  Among these are:

  • Death of a loved one, or dealing with persistent grief from a loss earlier in the year, or in past years that has never become manageable.
  • Loss of one’s job around the holidays, or remaining unemployed after a job loss earlier in the year.
  • Divorce or the end of a meaningful relationship.
  • Family discord that causes estrangement or conflict.
  • Being away from family as a member of the United States Military, or having a loved one/family member who is serving and is away.
  • Dealing with a serious physical or mental illness or a loved one’s illness.

These situations, if they cause persistent and paralyzing stress, should be addressed with professional counseling/treatment.  There is help available, and while it can be hard to admit that you need it and difficult to ask for it, it can help to resolve it for future happiness.

When the stressors are not major life events/crises, it is helpful to realize this:  Awareness is the first step to changing them.  Step back and evaluate the necessity of all the gift giving, the hosting, the decorating, the cards, decorations and the shopping.  For whatever reason you celebrate the holidays, the core of most celebrating revolves around general goodwill towards other people.  If you are wound up tight with all these things that bring you no happiness, and likely bring no one else happiness either, then you are likely too challenged to bring any joy to others.  You may even be letting your negativity and reactions to your self-made stress bring others down.

“NO” can be a very positive word, even with its longstanding negative rap.  When it frees you up to be happier, more productive and less stressed, you are better for yourself, and as a consequence, better for those close to you.

At this point in the holiday season, most of us are firmly entrenched in the path we always take, going through all the motions we normally go through, whether or not they bring us any joy.  As we complete this cycle once again, think about the parts of the holiday that bring about any negative feelings.  Is there anything you can do to reduce those feelings for next year?  Can any of your obligations be eliminated without extreme discord from your family/loved ones?  What is most important to you?  Focus on these priorities and make your decisions accordingly.

The news is good:  You have it within you to make any changes that will bring you the most holiday happiness.  Change is sometimes very difficult and takes work, but when it is for long-term happiness, it is good for everyone, and it is worth it.  Be aware that our families and loved ones may take a little time and effort to understand your motives.  Seeing the positive changes in you will likely bring about a ripple effect.  Pass it on.

Happy Holidays to you – you deserve it!