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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.

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

"Your plan may be to take a bubble bath because you're stressed out. Or you're renting a movie and having hot cocoa with your family," Breitman says. "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 writes in her book. Don't fall into the trap of coming up with new and creative excuses, she says. Instead, paraphrase yourself: "I won't be able to come" or "I already have something on my calendar."

Don't lie and make up an excuse, Skelton says. "You don't want to hurt someone's feelings, so you come up with anything, but later, it might come back to bite you." In other words, you'll feel embarrassed if you're caught, and you'll damage the relationship, too.

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

2. Say No to Out-of-Control Gift-Giving

"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," Breitman says.

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,'" she 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. But Breitman offers another twist -- especially for those on your list who don't need another cheese gift basket or motorized tie rack. 

Tell them, "I'm starting a new tradition. Instead of giving gifts, I'm going to make a contribution to an organization in your honor."

3. Say No to Unwanted Houseguests

Your cousin -- the one who recalls at every family gathering how you got stuck in the dog door trying to sneak out of the house in high school -- 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?"

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