Women's Holiday Stress: Is the Way I'm Doing the Holidays Working for Me?

2014-12-17-rullo.jpg Co-authored by Jordan Rullo, Ph.D., Mayo Clinic clinical psychologist and certified sex therapist.

Women report more stress over the holidays compared to men. They also say it's harder to relax during the holidays, and they are also more likely to engage in default coping skills (like comfort eating). Why is this the case? Just take a look at the magazine rack at your local grocery store. Women are being instructed to make the perfect meal, decorate the home perfectly and buy the perfect gifts... all this pressure for perfection! On the other hand, men are learning about the hottest new gadgets for the holidays. This societal pressure is so strong that research shows that women are almost twice as likely as men to say they'll do all the work necessary to pull off the holiday festivities. No wonder women have more stress than men during the holidays! How do you handle this stress?

Of course, there are a number of in the moment de-stressors, such as: read a book, go for a walk, journal or have a lunch or phone date with a friend. You can also use deep breathing as a way to relax. To breathe deeply for stress reduction, pretend you're breathing air all the way down to your toes, inhale for five, seconds and exhale for five seconds. Notice your belly moving up and down, not your chest. These are all great in the moment coping skills for stress. However, what about long-term solutions for stress reduction?

I want to challenge you to explore a longer lasting de-stressor. I want you to ask yourself: Is the way I do the holidays working for me? To answer this, think about your values. You can think of values as a compass. A value is not a goal that you can check off a list. It is a compass that guides you. For example, if you value family connection, you can't check that off a list. I've connected with my family, check! Family connection is something that is ongoing, that is never truly completed. I would recommend sitting down and making a list of your top values. If you want, doing a values card sort is a great way to kick start this process. Google "values card sort." This is an exercise where you are provided with a long list of possible values and you sort through these values to create a list of those that are most important to you. Once you have that list, ask yourself: Is the way I'm approaching the holidays consistent with these values? And if it's not, then ask yourself what you want to do differently.

If you do holidays in a way that is consistent with what's important to you (e.g., family connection), and not what's important to society (e.g., the perfect decorations, presents, or meal), this will help you eliminate a lot of unnecessary stress in the long term.