Enjoy Wellness

19 Female Leaders on Saying No to Holiday Stress

Lindsay Tigar  |  November 1, 2022

Tips on setting boundaries, making special memories and carving out time for yourself during the hectic holiday season.

‘Tis the season to curl up in a small ball and hide under your desk because you’re so overwhelmed? Not anymore! While the last quarter of the year is often chaotic and busy, it’s important to manage stress before it becomes too much to manage. If you struggle to set boundaries, say ‘no’ and let go of perfectionism, these 19 female leaders across several industries offer their insight so you can say no like a pro when it comes to stress.

Use your hands for something besides typing on a keyboard or tapping a screen

“As a busy professional, it can be so hard to unplug, but it is also so good for your mental health. To make disconnecting easier, put your phone out of your line of sight, or even in a drawer. Then choose an activity that will keep your hands busy — even better if they are dirty too. When your hands are tied up, you’re less likely to end up scrolling social or flipping TV stations absentmindedly. Some of my favorite ways to disconnect with loved ones are playing a board game, doing a craft like pottery, baking family recipes and looking through old photos. When I’m looking to unplug and de-stress by myself during the holidays, I love to read a paperback book while taking a bath, do home renovation projects — hitting nails with a hammer is pretty self-relieving as well — and play with my dogs.” —Samantha Hoff, wellness expert and founder of Pottery with a Purpose

Make a to-do list & complete it (but don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t)

“Being goal-oriented is one of my superpowers. I need to write down or put my goals on paper to make them happen. I will move it to tomorrow’s list if it doesn’t happen today. This is for both daily goals and long-term goals. For long-term goals, I make a vision board. For the gifting season, it’s my Excel shopping list. It brings me so much joy.” —Alina Villasante, the founder and designer of Peace Love World

Don’t be ashamed to outsource what you can

“I used to be the mom that’s chaotically running around in total frustration at the last minute, trying to finish everything by myself. Worse yet, I’d have difficulty enjoying the holidays with my family because I was too focused on making everything perfect. I had to realize that it’s better to have things done than done by me. For example, I could get my gifts wrapped professionally so that there’s one less thing for me to do. I could also cut back on cooking by having our holiday dinner catered or buying the side dishes at the grocery store. I could even hire professionals to decorate the outside of the house. None of these make me any less than a great mom, and the money is usually worth the mindfulness I get knowing that there’s one less thing I need to get done.” —Parisa Bady, CEO of Meros Media

Don’t stress too much about the perfect gifts

“I can’t tell you how much I used to stress out over getting clients and staff the perfectly thoughtful holiday gift. A few years ago, I stumbled upon some good ideas that I’ve consistently put into rotation ever since — and I have calendar reminders set so my assistant can order the gifts. Taking the guesswork out of gifts and removing the task of purchasing and shipping them myself made a huge difference. Gifts are always on point, and never late.

The gifts themselves are super simple – bonsai/money trees with fun messaging on the card, gift certificates to local restaurants, and so on. I find that internal staff prefer a cash bonus and/or additional PTO. Sprinkling some extra PTO around the holidays can improve morale and make the team feel less stressed (which, in turn, makes me feel less stressed).” —Kari DePhillips, founder and CEO of The Content Factory

Set — and stick to — strong boundaries

“In the office and for work, a great way to cut back on holiday stress is to be very clear about your boundaries about time! I put my holiday working hours in my email signature starting in November so it’s very clear when I will and won’t be available. And, give yourself buffer days so you’re not going from holiday craze into work and back and forth. Remember, taking time off is okay. You’re worth the rest and break. It’s also okay not to say ‘yes’ to every work event, Zoom happy hour, and party. Decide how much time and energy you want to spend on parties ahead of time and allow for just that time — you do not have to burn yourself out for other people.” —Olivia Dreizen Howell, CEO of Fresh Starts Registry

If it’s not a ‘hell yes’ it’s a ‘no thank you’ ”

“In a time where there is an opportunity for a party every single day of the week, plus a need to finish out your year-end at work, there is no room for commitments that will not be worth it. If it is not worth leaving your family again or putting off that project that’s stressing you out because it’s not done, then it’s not worth going, regardless of who is throwing it or where it is.” —Laura Maddox, the owner of Magnolia Celebrates

You are not responsible for everyone else’s happiness

“Likewise, it is not your job to make sure everyone else has the best holiday season ever. When we believe this, we easily fall into treating the holidays like a checklist. It’s not about the tasks checked off but about the memories we have the privilege to create with the people we care about. Start with the energy you are embodying and putting out to those around you. Be present, be kind, be light — not because you’re faking it, but because you have released burdens you’ve placed on yourself and you take responsibility for your choices and your impact. That’s what people really want to be around; it’s infectious and whether it’s a co-worker or a stranger, they take that with them to spread in their own ways you may never know or see.” —Erika Brechtel, founder of Élanoura

Find your routine non-negotiables

“Holidays are usually full of travel, movement, meetings, and gatherings that are non-stop. My life looks like that most of the time, with or without the holidays and I have found how quickly I can run my batteries to empty if I do not find routine in constant change. My non-negotiables are sleep which includes an eye mask, sound machine, essential oils, and a meditation app before bed, as well as moving my body every morning and journaling. I also always try to find an hour a week to catch up with a loved one, on the phone, on a walk, or mezcal and kombucha together. Time with people you love, being in the present moment, and having some fun are essential weekly routine items.” —Bridget Connelly, co-founder and CEO of Luna Bay Booch.

Try not to lose sight of the bigger picture

“The holiday stress factor is exponential, especially in retail and e-commerce. For me, it’s all about regaining perspective in three ways: Taking a deep breath (or several) to pause before I quickly move on and tackle the next task; letting go of the need to complete that one extra thing before I call it a day even though I’m on a roll, feeling good and checking off to-do lists, otherwise, I can slip into obsessive mode; Remembering that it’s the holiday season which I actually love! So in spite of all the work, I do my best to have fun while doing it by staying focused on the exuberance of flow rather than the burden of accomplishment.” —Stephanie Wang, founder and CEO of KA! Empathogenics

Set your Monday self up for success on Sunday

“I love to use Sundays to plan out my week ahead. I look at everything we have going on, both personally and professionally and get it all into the calendar. I even schedule fun things like, go get my nails done, to ensure that I make time for the fun things. I aim to show up well as a business leader and have a balanced life. I am giving those items value by putting things that mean the most to me on the calendar. This, in turn, makes it feel like I’m living a balanced life. If they don’t go on the calendar, that time will naturally fill up with meetings and tasks and all the stress of the holiday season.” —Amanda Rush Holmes, CEO of The Virtual Assistant Studio

Establish a meeting diet

“Busy executives and managers often have a calendar of almost back-to-back meetings throughout the week, but how many of those are absolutely necessary? Use the holiday season to create a meeting diet by postponing any standing meetings that can be on hold until after the new year. You can even create a company-wide meeting moratorium for a week or more. Both options can help keep your staff’s stress levels low during an otherwise hectic time. It can also help reveal what recurring meetings could be scheduled less frequently or eliminated altogether in 2023 to boost efficiency.” —Julie Castle, CEO of Best Friends Animal Society

Set WFH boundaries 

“When working from home, it’s easy to blur the lines between work life and home life. Setting boundaries between the two can help alleviate stress and allow you to be more productive and present for both sides of your life. When I work from home, I keep my work confined to my home office – it helps keep me focused on the tasks at hand, so I’m a better CEO and leader. I also don’t multitask – not between personal and work tasks. While throwing in a load of laundry between meetings might seem harmless, this context shifting takes your focus away from work and takes a longer time to get back in the zone. Similarly, when I’m off work – either when it’s outside of my working hours or while I am OOO enjoying the holidays, I sign off completely to enjoy the season to the fullest.” —Tracy Cho, CEO of Qeepsake

Go for lunch instead of dinner

“Money is often a driver for stress in and around the holidays, and thus every penny saved is meaningful. But how do you cut expenses without canceling get-togethers altogether? If you said happy hours, you’re partly right, but happy hours are short-lived and often applicable only during impractical days/times. However, lunches are, in my opinion, the most overlooked discount everyone already knows about! Most restaurants have equivalent menus for lunch and dinner, with the only difference being the prices. While you might pay $18 for that meal you love so much during dinner hours, that exact same dish is likely 20 to 25 percent cheaper during lunch hours, with even less foot traffic in the store.” —Cindy Fung, co-founder of Nature-Esque

Find comfort in traditions

“For the past 30 years, my family has traveled to Hawaii for the holidays. We cherish this tradition and time together. My kids only know Santa in surfer shorts! While traveling during the holidays might be overwhelming for some, for my family, knowing our plans so far in advance makes the decision-making for the entire season so much less stressful. While the actual tradition will vary for each person or family, even the most simple ones can provide comfort, support your wellbeing, and create invaluable memories with your family, friends, and loved ones.” —Yoky Matsuoka, founder and CEO of Yohana

Give experiences, not things

“The pressure to find the perfect gift for someone – particularly those that seem to have everything – or is appropriate for colleagues, or seemingly represents the right value can be overwhelming and can fall flat. A truly personalized gift for every team member and every family member can simply be too much to tackle. To avoid that unnecessary stress, I prefer to gift experiences. For use during the holiday season with my teams, or an activity someone can take advantage of after the busy holiday season to unwind, experiences are often more fun and more memorable. In the past, I’ve enjoyed offsite hands-on workshops with my team, a wine tasting from up-and-coming makers, or new experiences that recipients can enjoy with family and friends.” —Christine Marvin, chief marketing + experience officer at Marvin.

Mindfully create space in your life for creativity to flow

“This is a win-win strategy. It helps you personally and professionally. Space to rejuvenate and be away from your computer fills your personal cup and allows your mind to explore and strengthen in different ways. The bonus of this is, in my experience, allowing the space for creative thinking has always led to great strategies. When we are doing what is perceived as ‘unproductive’, what we are really doing is allowing the space for new ideas to flow through and for rejuvenation to take place, which is needed for stamina. Creativity isn’t something that can be scheduled on demand and put into your calendar. It needs to flow.” —Lisa Karandat, the co-founder of GoodJuju Body & Home

Make the holidays what you want, not what’s expected

“I absolutely love the holidays, especially in New York City. I know for some the holidays bring dread and anxiety, but I grew up in a household where holiday music was in the air, decorating was a must, and we’d drive around nearby towns to take in everyone’s holiday lights. Even though I don’t have children of my own yet, I’ve been really intentional about creating my own holiday traditions — and I don’t let anything get in the way of them! Christmas isn’t complete for me without a simple checklist of things that take precedence: go to ‘The Nutcracker’ ballet at Lincoln Center, set aside a weeknight to see the Rockefeller Christmas tree when the crowds are more manageable, decorate my Christmas tree, and see family when and how it makes sense for everyone’s schedules.” —Melody Serafino, co-founder of No. 29 Communications

Take your workouts with you

“It can be so tricky to set time aside to workout before or after the office. Instead, bring some workout equipment and a change of clothes to switch into right after work. Mix your walking routine to and from the office with some ankle or wrist weights, or even carry a resistance band for a quick ten-minute exercise after work. This practice can also curb mindless eating habits and remove the urge to go partying, eating and drinking right after work. Keeping your change of clothes and equipment nearby is another excellent reminder to stay on track!” —Vanessa Gordon, CEO and publisher of East End Taste

Plan for end-of-the-year work tasks

“The end of the year comes with many responsibilities in our professional lives: many companies work on their end-of-year financial statements, employee performance reviews, or holiday orders in some cases. Set up your holiday season tasks as a recurring event where you are actually starting them ahead of time; this way, you are left with minor adjustments when they are due. Buying presents for family, friends, and an office Secret Santa? Set a reminder in early November. Or, if it’s annual end-of-the-year reports, set those calendar reminders well before the due date. Then, have a to-do list for the week because having a to-do list for the day can sometimes become overwhelming. You can set a plan for the week and pick a day for each project in order of priority.” —Vanessa N. Martinez, the CEO and co-founder of Em-Powered Network


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