The holiday season is filled with fun, family, parties — and, if you’re like most people, lots of stress. Last year, only 28 percent of Americans said the holiday season left them “joyful,” according to a poll commissioned by the Center for a New American Dream, a Takoma Park, Maryland non-profit. And for people who often feel responsible for making the holidays special, the pressure can be particularly intense.
Not only do we often log extra hours at work to meet those crushing end-of-the-year deadlines, but many of us also are responsible for shopping for all those perfect gifts, cooking a large, elaborate holiday meal and creating beautiful holiday cards. “Can I cancel the holidays, please?” jokes Cheryl Quick, a Maplewood, NJ, mother of three, who estimates she has to buy some 50 gifts this year. “It’s not even Thanksgiving, and I’m getting agitated already.”
Still, experts say there are simple ways for working women to ease the holiday load. Here are three suggestions:
Dump The Martha Stewart Fantasies
Don’t try to bake the cookies, create handmade decorations, design elaborate holiday cards AND find the ideal gift for all 30 of your relatives and friends. Unless you’ve begun your holiday preparations months in advance — and most of us don’t — there is no way you can do it all, while working. “You have to downsize your expectations, and get realistic,” says Ellen Galinsky, executive director of the Families and Work Institute. For example, Quick no longer sends out holiday cards or bakes cookies, but she spends a lot of time shopping for gifts for her three children. Other parents cut back on gifts by arranging a gift grab bag for relatives, and save time by buying tree decorations, rather than making them by hand. The key: Focus on one or two tasks that are most important to you. “Children don’t really notice that you haven’t baked the cookies,” says Quick, a Toys R Us client services manager. “They do notice if you’re stressed out.”
Ask For Help
Sounds obvious, but many people — conditioned into thinking they are responsible for the holidays — don’t delegate. Betsy Taylor, executive director of the Center for the New American Dream, used to run herself ragged, cooking the entire Christmas dinner for almost 20 guests, until one year, she said, “Enough.” Now, Christmas dinner is a potluck — one brother bakes the breads, her sister-in-law brings dessert, her father makes the potatoes, and her husband cleans up. “It’s actually more fun now,” says Taylor.
Don’t Check Your Voice Mail And Email
Before going on vacation, of course, you should make co-workers aware of any pending projects; let clients know you will be out of town and whom to contact if they have a question. Don’t make yourself too available on vacation. Taylor advises that you leave a message on your voice mail and program your e-mail to send out an automatic response, letting people know that you are away and will not be checking messages until you return. You can come in an hour early the day you return to check your e-mail and voice mail, but until then, “just let go of work,” Taylor says. “We’re all working and rushing all the time. There needs to be a few times during the year, when we can just be.”