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The SMART Way to Shed Holiday Stress

Published on December 6, 2017 by VWC

The SMART Way to Shed Holiday Stress

Family photo. Holiday cards. School concert. Friends’ cookie swap. Neighbors’ progressive dinner. Work holiday party. Client gifts. Hosting dinner for 20.

Are you having fun yet?

Most domestic duties and merry-making activities and tasks are handled by women,  says Dr. Mary E. Polce, a licensed professional counselor and developmental psychologist with Virginia Women’s Center. That’s why self-care and a healthy dose of “no” are vitally important. Here’s Dr. Polce’s SMART method for coping with holiday stress.

S.   Share the holiday work as well as the joy.

“Smart women know it is not possible to fit all the shopping, wrapping, baking, decorating, entertaining, corresponding with cards, etc. into a four-week window, Dr. Polce says. “So ask for help and accept the reality that everything may not get done exactly as you would do it.” Ask spouses, family and children to help. Buy cookies from a bakery; order the apps or entrée from your favorite deli. While browsing locally owned boutiques is great, sometimes you need to power-shop online—and services like Shoprunner, which give you free two-day shipping at hundreds of stores, can be well worth the membership cost.

 M.   Monitor your basic needs. 

Protect your power sources: food and sleep. Adhere to your sleep routines, Dr. Polce advises, and pay attention to your nutritional needs. “Most ‘mommy meltdowns’ are no different from toddler tantrums,” she says. “Everyone has a shorter fuse when tired, hungry and stressed!” Ways to practice self-care include:

  • Take time for you. (No one will give it to you… especially the kids.)
  • Maintain your usual sleep and exercise routines, despite the chaos of the holiday calendar.
  • Make a cup of tea or pour a glass of cold water just for you. Sit and enjoy it, daily.
  • Prioritize the practices that help you de-stress, such as yoga, meditation or prayer.

A.   Always let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no. 

When you don’t want to do something stressful during the holidays, say no. “Practice saying no without adding a litany of reasons why you’re not a superhuman being,” Dr. Polce says. She calls it “the Netherlands no,” after the Dutch custom of politely declining without bending over backward to apologize. Feel like you really need a reason? Try saying, “We’re simplifying this year,” or “No, not this year.” Your response may model healthy boundaries for others.

However, when you say “yes,” do so wholeheartedly. “If you agree to host 35 people, it doesn’t make sense to say ‘yes’ and then later complain about it,” Dr. Polce says. Instead, let the work be a gift from your heart, and enjoy it.

R.  Realistic expectations keep you sane and happy. 

To ward off holiday stress, make time to connect with one of your friends who has a gift for maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Have a conversation about what’s going on in your lives, and try to get a reality check. Can everything be homemade? No. Will every event go perfectly? No. Can you do every single thing you want to do? No. Try to adjust your expectations and do the best you can. Give thanks for all that goes well, and develop a sense of humor for what doesn’t.

 T.  Take time to enjoy the moments.

When you look at photographs of past holidays, are you rarely present because you’re always holding the camera? It’s time to change that. Put yourself in the picture this year. One way to do that is to reduce screen time by cutting back the hours you lose on Instagram or Pinterest. “If you know you’re the person who gets lost in technology, perhaps don’t start it,” Dr. Polce suggests. Practice self-discipline, or use tools like blockers to put on the brakes. Remember what’s important: “You will only experience this holiday once in your life. Show up. Be present and take it all in… the faces of loved ones, laughter, hugs, tears, scents, and lights. And, of course, if you have a faith tradition let it guide your moments and priorities.”

Remember that your mental health is just as important as your physical health. Psychologists at Virginia Women’s Center can help if you’re struggling with anxiety, stress and depression, loss and grief, relationship challenges or other life transitions.