Making a List and Checking it Twice: Tips for Managing Women’s Holiday Stress

I was recently watching one of my favorite holiday movies, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” and I was struck by a scene that I had overlooked in years past. In this scene Betty Lou Who cries out from the top of her roof while stringing her elaborate Christmas lights, “I can feel it Lou. This is the year. When everybody asks who has the most spectacular lights in greater Whoville they’re gonna cry out, ‘Mrs. Betty Lou Who!’” Later in the movie we go inside of Betty Lou Who’s house, and we see extravagant Christmas decorations and her ornate roast beast sitting in her fridge, but as I reflect on these images and consider the role of women within their homes and their communities, I cannot help but ruminate on the amount of time and effort that Betty Lou Who has most likely spent preparing her family for the Christmas season. Studies produced by the American Psychological Association (APA) have shown that nearly half of all women in the United States experience heightened stress during the holiday season[1]. Additionally, women are doing less to address their stress, leading to an increase in unhealthy or detrimental habits[2].

It is not incredibly difficult to imagine why women are experiencing higher levels of stress during the holidays. Despite the advancements that women have made in the public sphere, they continue to perform a large majority of domestic duties, including those tasks related to merriment. Women may find it difficult to relax when juggling work and family responsibilities alongside the additional burdens of decorating, gift shopping and wrapping, and holiday cooking.

The APA has reported that as women experience these holiday stressors, their likelihood of turning to unhealthy coping behaviors, such as drinking alcohol or binge eating, increases by 28 percent and 41 percent respectively[3]. These holiday coping mechanisms have long term health implications. According to Dr. Russ Newman, the executive director for professional practice at the American Psychological Association, “stress, and the unhealthy behaviors people use to manage it, contribute to some of our country’s biggest health problems such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes”[4]. Therefore, it is crucial that as we enter the holiday season and begin drafting our holiday menus and purging outlet malls and strip centers in search for the perfect gifts, that we also take steps to relax and address our holiday stressors in healthy ways.

Here are a few tips for healthily navigating the holidays:

  1. Make a list and check it twice

Keep yourself on track and on time by keeping a detailed holiday to-do list. This will allow you to break down your holiday tasks into manageable pieces, while also keeping you focused and limiting the chances of forgetting anything.

  1. Live in Christmas present

Don’t dwell on Christmas past or daydream about Christmas future. No holiday is ever perfect, so make sure to manage your expectations, along with the expectations of your family and children. Poorly wrapped presents and mismatched lights won’t be the downfall of Christmas. Reframe these mistakes as family memories and remember to have fun!

  1. It’s okay to be the Scrooge

A lot of holiday stress is caused by overcommitting to multiple events. While we know the holidays boast a vast amount of exciting activities, it is important to save some time for yourself to relax and recharge. Make time for your family and ensure that you are getting enough sleep and engaging in physical activity. Only commit to the holiday activities that you truly enjoy and say ‘no’ to those that you don’t. Protecting your time and your energy will make the season much more gratifying and manageable.

  1. Get support from your elves

The holidays are a great time to connect with family and friends and strengthen your support network. If you feel holiday stress is becoming too difficult to manage alone, don’t be afraid to reach out to those around you and ask for help.

-M.A.M.


[1] APA. 2006. APA Survey Shows Holiday Stress Putting Women’s Health at Risk. APA. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2006/12/women-stress

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

Image Sources

Grinch– https://tenor.com/search/grinch-dinner-with-myself-gifs

Check it Off Your List– https://giphy.com/gifs/WhenWeAllVote-vote-go-when-we-all-kfWVKY2gOh8uCqbIQj

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