The One Word That Will Transform Your Holiday Stress – The Secret to Opting Out of Stress and Overwhelm

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Over the last few days I've begun to hear the familiar refrain everywhere I go. "It's the holidays. I have so much to do - I don't know how I'll get it all done". Walking through the supermarket, at the hair salon, chatting with people at work, the variations are endless and yet so similar. Just this morning, a friend told me "I feel so pressured and stressed by everything I have to do at work and at home".

As much as we want the holidays to be a time of joy, celebration, and connection, this is often a period of significant stress and overwhelm. Businesses have increased production and the push for "holiday sales". Black Friday deals are announced well ahead of time (I got 10 emails about this just yesterday). Deadlines become more urgent as employees work to "get it all done" in order to take time off. People make multiple trips to the grocery store to make sure nothing is forgotten. Creating a special meal or finding the perfect present results in multiple lists and often increased frustration and frayed tempers. And then there's travel - AAA is reporting the biggest expected travel volume in 12 years for Thanksgiving ( As we move through Thanksgiving and into December, the frenzy heightens.

So - how do you opt-out of stress and overwhelm? What's the ONE word that shifts your experience from overdrive to enjoyable? I did a mini-survey and got answers such as "hope, joy, love, and gratitude". Another group answered with things like "wine, chocolate, and sleep" (I asked for real responses!)

The problem is that hope, joy, and gratitude can be hard to access during times of stress. High expectations (of ourselves and others) and juggling too many things at the same time can interfere with sleep. And wine and chocolate may be delicious but aren’t necessarily effective against overwhelm.

What's the solution? How do you opt-out of stress and overwhelm during this time period? Say NO.

NO has the power to transform your holiday season by setting boundaries and limits to what you take on. Here are some examples:

- Say NO to making your third pie when you haven’t stopped going all day and it’s way past your bedtime. It’s perfectly okay to just bake one pie – or even to buy one locally (unless you absolutely love baking and it’s your time of relaxation).

- Say NO to attending another holiday party when you can’t remember your last free weekend. Suggest a smaller get-together later in January when there’s less going on.

- Say NO to family members who see you as the answer to all their holiday needs. Try saying “I know this is a busy time for you, just as it is for me.”

- Say NO to the urge to “do it all”. Simple and heartfelt resonate the most with people (and save you unnecessary worry and time).

- Say NO to perfection and negative self-talk. Instead, take a breath. Then another one. Chances are, you are your own worst critic. Try being your own best friend.

Once you’ve started to say no, and decreased your “have-to’s” and “shoulds”, you can start saying YES. Yes to taking breaks. YES to appreciating a sunset, a bird flying overhead, or a good night’s sleep.

Say YES to turning off the tv, the radio, the computer and having a few moments of quiet. Say YES to allowing yourself to feel connection to those you value, and YES to experiencing gratitude for those individuals. Say YES to doing more of the things you love because you’ve said NO to some of the obligations or expectations.

Most of all, allow yourself opportunities for hope and for joy. The holidays will pass whether you are stressed or happy. Give yourself the ultimate gift and say YES to being kind, caring and compassionate to yourself.


Kristina Hallett, Board-Certified Clinical Psychologist and advanced self-care expert, author of Own Best Friend: Eight Steps to a Life of Purpose, Passion, and Ease (2017)

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