Learning to say ‘No’ during the holidays to avoid stress
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By Steven Campbell  December 6, 2013 12:00 am

It is sad the day after Thanksgiving is now called “Black Friday,” that the holidays have become a ‘season-to-fear” rather than a season of cheer, and holiday stress has become as traditional as the Holiday ham. But it need not be that way.

“People are overcommitted,” says Marc D. Skelton, PhD, a psychologist in Laguna Niguel, Calif. “The holidays around this time are always supposed to be fun, and you’re supposed to do a good job in terms of entertaining friends and family.”

But attempting to live up to the holidays is a tall order. It’s not even Christmas anymore, some of his clients lament. It’s “Stressmas.” But there’s a way to cut holiday stress. Just say no.

By saying yes to every holiday demand that comes your way, you wind up exhausted and possibly broke. Instead, reflect on what you cherish most about the holidays, whether it’s sending greeting cards to maintain relationships, baking, religious observances or seeing family and friends. Or perhaps, it’s just relaxing.

In her book, “How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty,” Patty Breitman says that knowing your priorities enables you to turn down the less important things. “It’s easier to say no if you know what you’re saying yes to.”

So, how do you say no?

Start with the parties you don’t want to attend. “Lavishly thank the person for inviting you,” Breitman says.

Then apply the “less is more” rule. Skip the long-winded explanation in favor of something short and sweet: “I’m sorry, but I already have plans for that day.” 

Your plan may be to take a bubble bath, or renting a movie with your family. No one has to know what your commitment is. If the other person insists on knowing why you can’t come, the burden of prying will be on him, Breitman says. “Don’t fall into the trap of coming up with new and creative excuses.” Instead, paraphrase yourself and say, “I won’t be able to come” or “I already have something on my calendar.”

If you receive an invitation from someone you genuinely want to see but not during the hectic holiday season, suggest an alternative. For example, you can say, “I can’t make it to your party, but let’s have lunch after the holidays.”

Reject excessive giving of gifts.

Nothing saps the holiday spirit like having to run around and buy gifts you don’t have time to shop for, can’t afford, and that nobody really needs anyway.

If you’re fed up, you can opt out of family gift-giving traditions “if you don’t mind looking like the Grinch who said no to Christmas,” Breitman says.

Or you take a more tactful approach. Consider drawing names for a gift exchange or buying one gift for a household instead of individual presents. Or experiment with novel alternatives:

Pool your money and invest in a professionally done family portrait with prints for everyone. 

Replace material things with a memorable holiday experience. Rent a house in a vacation spot or national park, or gather everyone to attend a special holiday play or performance.

Gift cards to family and friends can be a godsend. Or tell your relatives that “I’m starting a new tradition. Instead of giving gifts, I’m going to make a contribution to an organization in your honor.”

Saying no to unwanted houseguests

Your cousin, the one who recalls at every family gathering those embarrassing stories, wants to move his brood into your home for a week, but you know that you’ll end up getting on each other’s nerves.

“Keeping houseguests away is a lot easier than getting rid of them,” Breitman warns. “Once they’re under your roof, it’s almost impossible to evict someone in a graceful, guilt-free manner.”

Some preventive tactics:

“You’re coming to town? Fantastic! A great new hotel just opened — you’ll love it!”

“Sorry, the house is in no condition for guests right now.”

“I can’t wait to see you. Do you need recommendations on a good place to stay?”

Say no to big work for holiday celebrations

Are you the family’s Martha Stewart? The one who knocks herself out every Christmas to prepare an elaborate feast for the extended clan? 

If festive entertaining leaves you frazzled, try a change of scenery. For example, say, “Everyone has been coming here for Christmas for years, but I need a break. Either someone else can do it or we’ll all go out to a restaurant.” (Remember that precious scene in the Chinese restaurant at the end of “A Christmas Story!”)

If you still plan to host, but don’t want to shoulder the entire burden, use the word “tradition” to your advantage. Tell your guests, “I’m starting a new tradition. This year, everyone will bring one dish for the meal.”

Because others are busy, too, “Make sure that they understand that no one has to make it from scratch,” Breitman says. 

It’s fine if Grandma’s soup came from the deli or your nephew shows up with store-bought dinner rolls. As Martha likes to say, “it’s all a good thing.”

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