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Steph Barnes
December 12, 2017 1:49 pm

The holidays are almost upon us. As kids, for many of us, the holidays were a cheerful time filled with gifts, great food, and time off from school. But then we grew up and the holidays became less about carefree snow days and got so stressful that we now, as adults, often forget the true meaning. It’s no secret that the holidays can be incredibly overwhelming. Sure, there are still things to enjoy about the season, but the perks are sometimes accompanied by feeling of being stretched too thin and left with too little time, energy, and money for ourselves — and it’s often our own fault.

Our inability (or unwillingness) to say “no” leaves us overextended, and never is this more evident than around the holidays. Humans are social creatures, we thrive on reciprocity. It’s in our nature to be socially obliging, even at our own expense, and the word “no” feels like confrontation that threatens a potential bond. But when we say the easy “yes” instead of a difficult “no,” we tend to overcommit. We end up falling victim to the season’s high expectations, and holiday stress becomes as much a tradition as grandma’s sweet potato pudding.

“Stress is common during the holidays because we have additional demands on our resources, like our time, energy, and finances,” Joffrey S. Suprina, Ph.D., dean and associate professor of the College of Counseling, Psychology and Social Sciences at Argosy University, told SELF. “For most, it is not one single thing but the combination of demands that pushes us to our limit.” But there is a power and a freedom in saying “no”, instead of yes, and it’s a power that we should all know how to tap into — especially at the holidays.

While everyone is saying, “Ho, ho, ho,” it’s time to practice self-preservation by saying, “No, no, no.”

Saying “no” during the holidays can be particularly beneficial because it gives you the opportunity to say “yes” to the things and people that actually matter. Sometimes we agree to all kinds of different events or favors that we end up not having the space to say “yes” to friends or family. It’s admittedly easier said that done. During the holiday season, our plates are already full enough (and not just with delicious foods), and though it’s counter-intuitive, being short on time makes it even harder for us to manage the limited time we do have.

According to Harvard behavioral scientist Sendhil Mullainathan and Princeton economist Eldar Shafir. In their book Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much, they explain that the busier we get, the more likely it is that we will have a harder time saying “no” to the next request.

This happens because when we are stressed and tired, we tend to act out of habit. But now that you are aware of this, you can now be more mindful and train our brain to habitually say “no” instead of “yes” to those requests you aren’t really excited about.

So how do you navigate your way around this?

It’s simple: Practice your reason for saying no before you actually need it. Try something like: “I wish I could, but I can’t take on any more responsibilities this week.” Research shows that when we make a specific plan before we are confronted with a request, we are far more likely later to act in a way that’s consistent with our original intentions.

Finally being able to say “no” during the holidays could help you avoid toxic family situations. As much as we love our families, the additional stress of the holidays can cause tensions to run a little higher than usual with everyone under the same roof. This is especially true if you have old frustrations or baggage surrounding certain relatives. You don’t have to go to every family gathering you’re invited to, especially if you know you’ll end up leaving feeling drained or upset.

Watching your office responsibilities grow as the holidays inch closer is no fun, but it can help to view the experience as a chance to hone your time management technique and master the art of just saying “no.”

“This is a great opportunity to exercise your voice as well as prioritizing skills. The first place to start is to ask yourself or your supervisor, ‘What can wait?’ This in return helps you prioritize tasks based on need and level of importance,” psychologist Aida Vazin, M.A. says.

Speaking of work, saying “no” during the holidays could actually help your finances. You’ll be spending quite a bit of cash buying gifts for those you love and yourself this season, so skipping an outing or two with friends of friends or acquaintances you don’t actually enjoy spending time with, could save you quite a bit. This goes for holiday parties at work too.

There are very few circumstances where you truly can’t say “no.” This year, put yourself first. Yes, some people might be a pissed at you, but they’ll usually get over it. A lot of the guilt we feel over saying “no” is self-imposed, so give yourself a break. Unless someone else’s livelihood is in your hands or you are obligated to do something as part of your job (and even then, there are still totally valid excuses to get out of it), the things you do or don’t do are entirely up to you — and no one else.

Say it with us: “No is not a bad word.”

Do yourself a favor and try it today.

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