Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Health & Balance

Font Size

Keep Holiday Stress to a Minimum: Learn to Say No

Before your holiday stress levels start to rise, learn these 4 simple tactics for saying no to unnecessary obligations.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

For many of us, the holidays were magical in childhood, carefree times to be savored. But then we grew into hordes of harried adults, falling victim to the season's high expectations. Holiday stress has become as much a tradition as the Christmas ham.

"People are overcommitted," says Marc D. Skelton, PhD, PsyD, a psychologist in Laguna Niguel, Calif. "Christmas and other 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."

Recommended Related to Mind, Body, Spirit

How I Escaped My Rapist

  On my last day of vacation in Italy, a chatty café owner in Rome introduced me to a tall, charming Italian man. He was a local artist, I learned; his name was Marco. Just a day earlier, my friend Lynn and I had sat in a piazza in Florence talking about how hard it is to meet nice guys. It had been two years since my last relationship, and, admittedly, I'd grown a little standoffish with the opposite sex. Lynn and I agreed that I could open up a little more. So when I met Marco, I figured...

Read the How I Escaped My Rapist article > >

In an attempt to live up to the season's tall orders, "people will just run from pillar to post," he says. It's not even "Christmas" anymore, some of his clients lament. It's "Stressmas."

We also overload ourselves with inherited traditions, even when they no longer fit into our busy lives, says Elaine Rodino, PhD, a psychologist in Santa Monica, Calif. If one's mother "baked a thousand cookies and gave them to everyone she knew," Rodino says, "people feel obligated to follow the same kinds of things."

But there is a secret to cutting holiday stress: Just say no.

You don't have to bake all those cookies, Rodino says. "You can start your own traditions."

And you can learn to say no to lots of other demands, too, including party invitations that don't entice or a whopping gift list that could clean out a mall. 

Holiday Stress-Reduction Tip: Decide What Matters Most

"The spirit of the holidays is gratitude and giving," says Patti Breitman, co-author of the book How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty

Only a Scrooge would dispute that generosity is admirable. "It's very satisfying to offer support to the people we love, help out a neighbor, or do something positive for the community," Breitman writes. But "the conflict arises when we continually agree to things that please everyone but ourselves or when we commit to tasks for which we have no time or desire."

By saying "yes" to every holiday invitation and demand that comes your way, you could wind up exhausted and possibly broke. Instead, reflect on what you cherish most about the holidays, experts say, whether it's sending greeting cards to maintain relationships, tree trimming, baking, religious observances, seeing family and friends, supporting a charitable cause, or just relaxing.

When you know your priorities, you can turn down the less important things, Breitman says. "It's easier to say 'no' if you know what you're saying 'yes' to."

How to Say No to Holiday Stress

1. Say No to Parties That You Don't Want to Attend

First, "Lavishly thank the person for inviting you," Breitman says.

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

Today on WebMD

Hands breaking pencil in frustration
Quiz
Dark chocolate bars
Slideshow
 
teen napping with book over face
VIDEO
concentration killers
Slideshow
 
man reading sticky notes
Quiz
worried kid
fitArticle
 
Hungover man
Slideshow
Woman opening window
Slideshow
 
Woman yawning
Health Check
Happy and sad faces
Quiz
 
brain food
Slideshow
laughing family
Quiz