Do You Have the “Holiday Stress” Personality?
The holidays can be stressful for many people, but women tend to get the brunt of it.
A 2013 study by the American Psychological Association (APA) found that women experienced a much more dramatic spike in stress levels over the holidays than men did.
Researchers noted that women were much more likely to shoulder the work burden during family celebrations, and that women were twice as likely to be tasked with cooking, shopping, and cleaning than men were. Men, on the other hand, were nearly twice as likely as women to report they’d be watching football over the holidays!
An earlier 2006 study reported similar results. Researchers found that holiday stress had a particular impact on women, because they most often take charge of the holiday celebrations, particularly cooking and decorating. They were also found to have a harder time relaxing during this time and to be more likely to use bad habits to manage stress, like comfort eating.
Most of us have felt it, that stress that creeps up in November and doesn’t seem to leave until mid-January. Some women, however, have an even more difficult time than others, mainly because of certain personality traits.
So the question becomes: Do you have a “holiday stress” personality?
Holiday Stress Personality Quiz
Certain personality traits make you even more vulnerable to holiday stress. How do you know if you have these personality traits? Let’s start with a little quiz.
Look at the following questions, and rate your answers from 1 to 5, with 1 meaning “hardly ever” and 5 meaning “most of the time.”
- Do you feel guilty if you use spare time to relax?
- Do you generally move, walk, and eat rapidly?
- Do you often try to do more than one thing at a time?
- Do you live in fear of falling behind or overlooking something?
- Do you feel like a failure if everything doesn’t go just right?
- Would you consider yourself a high achiever?
- Do you get really impatient if you have to wait in line, wait in traffic, or wait on others to get your stuff done?
- Do you tend to swallow your feelings just to get along with others?
- Are you the peacekeeper in your family?
- Do you hate—really hate—wasting time?
- Do you have trouble sleeping around the holidays because of everything that needs to get done?
- Do you feel responsible for helping your family to enjoy the holiday season?
Now add up all your answers to come up with a total number. Answer key:
- 50-60: You definitely have the holiday stress personality. That means the holidays are going to be tough on you. You may even be skating on the edge of holiday meltdown. You’ll probably lose sleep, feel irritable and uncomfortable (headaches, aches and pains, stomach upset), and you may even fall victim to more infections (colds, flus) than usual. You can head it all off now by using some of the tools below to help yourself relax.
- 40-49: You tend to care about having things go well, which means the holidays will probably be a time of stress rather than relaxation. You may experience symptoms like tension headaches, back pain, and digestive upset. Read on to find ways to take better care of yourself.
- 30-39: Holidays are stressful for you, even though you may handle it pretty well. You aren’t likely to experience any major health problems, but you may not enjoy yourself as much as you could, either. Read on to find out how to keep the holidays from stressing you out.
- 0-29: You don’t tend to stress too much around the holidays, or at any time, actually! You’re happy to live and let live, and you’re not concerned about everything going just so. Your job is to help others around you to relax, too!
Holiday Stress Personality Traits
The holiday stress personality is made up of three main personality traits. If you scored high on the test above, you likely have one or more of these traits.
Each one of these has its positive and negative sides. Unfortunately, it’s the negative ones that ramp up the stress over the holidays. The good news is that the more you’re aware of these traits and how they affect you, the more you can manage them so they don’t increase your anxiety the last few weeks of the year.
- High Achiever
In general, you are motivated to achieve. If you’re not working toward something, you feel restless and useless. So naturally, you may see the holidays as yet another area in which you can succeed.
Here are some of the ways this trait can steer you wrong:
- Achievers usually don’t discriminate—they want to achieve in all areas of life, which means that you could be overloading yourself trying to continue to achieve at work while you mastermind spectacular holiday get-togethers at the same time. Even high achievers need to sleep sometime.
- Friends and loved ones are different than bosses and co-workers. They may not appreciate all your hard work. They may be just as happy with pizza and football, which means you could end up feeling like you failed even if you do everything right.
- Things can go wrong, and often do. These things can be out of your control (someone fails to show up for the big dinner, or the turkey burns), but they can still make you feel like you missed something.
To enjoy the holidays while still satisfying your need to achieve, keep these tips in mind:
- Don’t ignore your stress-relieving activities. Direct your high-achieving energy toward self-care to keep yourself strong and healthy during this time. Exercise daily, maintain your daily yoga or meditation practice, and get to bed at the same time every night.
- Choose your poison. If it’s the big dinner you want to create, the presents, the decorating, or the activities, try to choose just one and delegate the rest. Force yourself to step back on most projects so you don’t end up overwhelmed.
- Please yourself. Realize that you can’t guarantee that everyone will be happy and will enjoy the holidays, or that they will appreciate your efforts. Choose a project that you’ll enjoy working on regardless of what anyone else thinks, and leave it at that.
- Learn something new. Achievers love to learn. Pick something new to learn this holiday and put your energies toward that. Maybe you want to learn to play an instrument, cook a new recipe, or master a new decorating technique. This will give you something productive to do with your energies, and allow you to let other things go.
- People Pleaser
You are the person who loves to make other people happy. In general, you love the holidays because of the warmth and cheer, and for the looks on people’s faces when they open their gifts.
That means you’re going to work extra hard over the holidays to make sure everyone has a good time. Unfortunately, that can wear you out quickly.
- You’re likely to stretch yourself too thin worried about everyone else and forgetting about yourself.
- Your well-being will be tied into how others feel. That means the holidays can be a roller coaster, with your feelings going up and down depending on how others around you are doing.
- You feel like it’s your responsibility to help others who are struggling. You are likely to take on the troubles of others as well as their stress and/or sadness, gradually draining your resources.
To enjoy helping others without overburdening yourself, try these tips:
- Set limits. You can’t be everything to everybody. Set limits on how much time you will spend tending to the needs of others. The best way to do this is to stick to a daily schedule. When does the day of work end? Make it 7:00 at night, for instance, and after that, tend only to yourself and your needs.
- Make self-care a priority. This is really hard for people-pleasers, so look at it this way: if you get sick because you’ve stretched yourself too thin, you will be of no help to anyone else. That means you’ve got to take care of yourself. Schedule healthy eating and exercise into every day and don’t allow yourself to neglect them. Also make sure you’re doing a stress-relieving activity at least three times a week. (Examples: take a walk, spend time with a pet, listen to music, go to a yoga class.) Finally, don’t be afraid to say “no” when you need to. Set boundaries and don’t allow others to take advantage of you.
- Watch for signs. You know when you’re starting to wear down. Pay attention to the signs. You may feel tired, get a light headache, or snap at someone. When these things happen, stop and regroup. Where are you overloaded? What can you delegate or drop entirely? When can you get away for a few hours to relax? Figure out what you need, and do it.
- Realize it’s not up to you. People pleasers feel like they’ve failed if others in their lives don’t enjoy the holidays, but if you think about it, this is kind of an egotistical point of view. Who are you to make the holidays perfect for everyone? No one can do that. You don’t have that much power. Realize that everyone’s happiness is up to them, and focus on making yourself happy, and doing the things you enjoy.
You are the one that puts the quality touch on things. You notice all the little things that need to get done, and you do them. You spot the errors and mistakes and fix them. You love to have things come out just right, and when there’s something wrong, it tends to drive you nuts.
That means that you’ll have the perfect tree, the perfect holiday cookies, and the perfect holiday dinner. Unless something messes it up. And that will make you…really stressed out.
- Because of your perfectionist tendencies, the holidays are likely to make you nervous. You’ll be thinking of trying to find the perfect gift and how to create the perfect family moment, and you’ll feel pressured to make it all happen just right.
- Your well-being is subject to whether or not everything goes perfectly. It usually doesn’t, which means the holidays end up being stressful and disappointing.
- You’ll go all out to make everything meet your high standards (hand-made greeting cards, anyone?), which means you’re going to be consistently tired and worn out.
To satisfy your desire for perfection and still enjoy the holidays, try these tips:
- Challenge yourself to be imperfect. Choose one or two small activities each day and decide to do them imperfectly. Take short cuts. Give yourself time limits to get them done and don’t waffle. See how perfect you can be at being imperfect! Buy your holiday cards instead of making them, or better yet, allow your kids to make and send them. Cut back on holiday cooking by buying some ready-made items. Delegate the decorating to your spouse and don’t interfere.
- Ask yourself what you’re afraid of: Perfectionists usually worry that if they don’t do everything perfectly, something awful will happen. What are you afraid of? Disappointing others? Having others think less of you? Challenge your fears and confront them head-on. How realistic are they? Are you operating out of fear for no reason?
- Watch out for overload. Perfectionists tend to take on too much, which results in stress and overload. They may even experience a mini-breakdown because of it all, or simply start avoiding everything and everyone. Don’t allow yourself to get to that place. Look over your to-do list. If it’s getting way too long, cut back. Delegate. Let some things go. Realize that it’s critical for your well being.
- Focus on genuine connections. Often when we focus on everything else about the holidays, we forget what really matters—personal connections. If you’re stressed out, irritable, and upset because things aren’t perfect, you’re going to miss out on genuine interactions with others. Don’t be that stressed-out host. Focus your perfectionist tendencies on self-care and being the best friend and loved one you can be.
You Can Make Positive Changes
If you’ve experienced holiday stress in the past, ask yourself: do you want to go through that again?
If not, ask yourself what you can change. Are there things you usually do that you can let go this year? Ways you can change your traditions to make them easier on you and your family? Are there new things you can try that will make the holidays more fun and less stressful?
It’s all up to you. These are your holidays. Isn’t it time you really enjoyed them?
Disc Insights, “APA Study Finds Women Experience More Holiday Stress Than Men,” DiscInsights.com, November 24, 2013, https://www.discinsights.com/blog/home/apa-study-finds-women-experience-more-holiday-stress-than-men.
“Holiday Stress,” ˆGreenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, December 12, 2006, https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2006/12/holiday-stress.pdf.