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  • December 18, 2019

    6 Ways to Say 'Heck No!' to Holiday Stress

    Four common stressors and six ways to say not to holiday stress, from State Bar of Wisconsin WisLAP Coordinator Jason Magill, a licensed professional counselor.

    Jason Magill

    stressed gingerbread man

    Dec. 18, 2019 – The wonderful days to gather with our friends and loved ones are here – the days of sharing stories over a bounty of food and exchanging gifts intended to represent a physical manifestation of our love and adoration for others.

    The season can be uplifting, but many experience deep amounts of stress and anxiety. This article lists the most common holiday stressors and six ways you can say, “Heck No!” to holiday stress so your days can be merry and bright.

    Have you asked yourself, “If this time of year is supposed to be full of cheer, why am I so ambivalent about it?” Everyone will have their own reasons, but here are a few things many will agree on.

    The Holidays are too Commercial

    Let’s be honest, a little part of us wants the holidays to be over before the season begins. Every year decorations and advertisements for Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals appear before Halloween is over.

    Jason MagillJason Magill is the coordinator for the State Bar’s Wisconsin Lawyer Assistance Program (WisLAP), which provides confidential assistance to help lawyers, judges, law students, and their families cope with problems related to the stress of practicing law. Reach him by email or call (800) 444-9404 ext. 6151.

    Manufacturers and retailers have created desire to own products, such as iPads, iPhones, as well as the feeling of belonging to a group –  a group that will stand outside in line 48 hours before a new product is released to be one of the first to own it.

    Too Many People – This is War!

    Even when you’re in a festive mood, the abundance of people that come from seemingly everywhere is mind numbing. Crowded stores and roads make travel during the holiday season more like a well-executed battle plan than a quick shopping trip.

    The friendly smiles and winks that readily appear on the faces of the battle-tested moms, dads, and grandparents disappear when the choice parking spot is available or a new checkout lane opens. This is one of the biggest reasons online shopping is giving brick and mortar businesses a run for their money.

    Dazed and Confused

    Shopping during this time of year makes you susceptible to what I call “Extra Long Very Entertaining Stares” or E.L.V.E.S.

    You’ve seen them aimlessly walking the aisles with blank stares on their faces. You’ve probably been one of them. This blank stare, or “spacing out”, is due to our senses being bombarded. The lights, music, smells, colors and influx of shoppers hits all of our senses like no other time of year. Normally, our brains and bodies are accustomed to blocking out many unnecessary sights and sounds that vie for our attention. However, during the holiday season stores change nearly everything.

    These changes surprise your brain and body by introducing new information that it wants to process and make decisions about. You may wonder why you feel exhausted after holiday shopping. After all, it’s only shopping. This is because your brain is not meant to take in so much sensory input for extended periods of time.

    You are tired. Take a long winter’s nap.

    We Do This Once a Year

    As much as you may love most of your family, you may also have those few that you would never associate with if it weren’t for an extended marriage you never sanctioned.

    However, this is a season of merriment and cheer and it’s done once a year. That doesn’t mean you won’t need a good night’s sleep and some liquid cheer (a.k.a. coffee) to get you through time with the family.

    From petty one-upmanship to gossip and tattling, to poor communication that leads to uncle Mort having hurt feelings six years ago, you may need a good sense of humor and a strong constitution to make it through to New Year’s Eve.

    These are just a few of the more common stressors during this time of year, but here are six ways you can say no to holiday stress.

    1. What’s Important?

    So many things happen during the holidays that we forget to take stock of the real important things. From getting “the right gift,” making all the holiday parties, completing gift shopping in time, and making something to bring to parties, we tend to lose track of what’s really important.

    Try not to stress about should-dos and fear of guilt that you may disappoint someone. Ask yourself and your immediate family how they want to spend the holidays.

    This will help you figure out what is most important to you and your family. What you’ll often find is that what you thought was important to others really isn’t.

    2. Get Organized

    Next, look at your schedule. Be realistic about all the things you want to get done and don’t over-extend yourself. This often causes us to feel hurried and stressed which we then share with others. Ask yourself, “Do I realistically have the time to do all the things I would like to and still maintain my sanity?”

    Start by penciling in events on your calendar to help yourself manage your time effectively. Include things like decorating, cooking, shopping and wrapping gifts.

    If the idea of getting organized stresses you out, you’re in luck. There are services like Organize Yourself that turn organization into an art.

    The best part is that no matter what area of life needs organizing, they can help. Think about how much time you’ll save by being organized this season.

    3. Be a Good Compro-Miser

    You may ask: “Why do I dread the holidays?” Many of us compromise too much and get run over by those that aren’t as worried about how we feel, what we want or what sacrifices we’ll need to make. They’re really only concerned about their agenda.

    They may also be very good compro-misers themselves and bending you to their will is helping them achieve their holiday goals.

    Just remember that your time, and how you spend it, is also extremely important. This is time you won’t get back. Don’t agree to things you don’t want to do for fear that you’ll hurt someone’s feelings. Chances are they’re not considering your feelings if they use guilt as persuasion.

    However, this doesn’t mean don’t compromise at all. Be willing to compromise within reason. For example, if you have your heart set on decorating your house like Clark Griswold in Christmas Vacation but your family likes A White Christmas décor, consider something simpler or eliminate something else.

    4. Perfection is for Posers

    Avoid perfectionist tendencies. Let’s say you want 12 ounce, green disposable cups for your party, but when you get to Wal-Mart you can only find 8 ounce blue cups.

    Consider the time, energy and frustration you will expend traveling to other stores, in holiday traffic, to find those green 12 ounce cups.

    Some of the best parties I’ve attended were eclectic not only in food and drink, but also décor. If your guests are only interested in pointing out that your dinner plates, silverware or drinkware didn’t match at your last holiday party, it’s time to find new guests. Having a festive group of great people without pretenses makes for a great party. Party perfection, while great in theory, is for those without much to say.

    5. Practicality With Purpose

    Doing some very practical things during the holiday season will help maintain purpose and happiness. You can set a budget that you’ll stick to and try to pay cash. Looking at a mountain of holiday credit card debt is not how you want to start the New Year. Find holiday recipes you can prepare in advance when you have a little more time.

    6. It’s All in Your Head

    One of the best things you can do to keep your sanity over the holidays is to remember that most stressors we experience are first conceived in our brains. We are great at creating things to stress about. Real or imaginary, we’re often creating mountains out of molehills and we become our own worst enemy.

    When you find that you’re feeling overwhelmed this season, step back and take a moment for yourself. Ask yourself if there’s any truth to the thought or thoughts you’re having that are getting you worked up.

    Question whether it is something factual or if you’re adding a lot of your own thoughts and beliefs without facts to back them up. Also try to remember, if you really want to make holiday memories this year focus on relationships rather than activities.

    Giving the gift of kindness and service will last you and others long after the season.

    By knowing our common holiday stressors and what we can do to say “Heck No!” to them, we’ll be better prepared to actually enjoy the holiday season.




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