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Don’t Stress, Schedule Less

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With economic and personal anxiety compounding holiday stress, it’s more important than ever to make sure we’re taking care of ourselves. If we can’t look after ourselves, then we really aren’t that much good to other people anyway, which could present problems during the holidays. Overcommitting ourselves, for example, adds stress to our lives and is easy to do at this time of year—and it’s often very difficult to back out of those commitments. These tips may help you avoid the overcommitment trap … or at the very least, get out of something if you’re already ensnared.

Say Goodbye to Overcommitting and Hello to More Free Time

Make Good Decisions Initially
Before saying yes to anything, pause for a moment and think it through. Sure, you’d love to help with the bake sale, but when it’s midnight the night before the sale and you still have one hundred cupcakes to make, you’ll be kicking yourself. If you need time to think about it, take the time. Better to say “no” in the beginning than to bail at the last second or to finish the last batch at 6 a.m. If you feel guilty, promise you’ll help out next time.

Schedule Time Off
If Thursday night TV is important to your sanity, schedule it. You don’t have to explain yourself to anyone—if you’re busy Thursday night, you’re busy and that’s that. Figure out the things in your life that bring you joy and help you relax and honor those commitments as seriously as you would a work commitment. If you don’t take the time to relax and rejuvenate, you’ll quickly burn out and have to cancel your commitments anyway.

Learn How to Say No
Why is it so hard? Who knows, but this is one of the most important things we can ever do for ourselves. Setting boundaries in your life is up to you and once you figure out how to do it, the freedom and satisfaction you’ll feel is unbelievable. If you don’t want to feel bullied or guilted into something, then don’t. Start by saying “no” to small things and gradually, you’ll build up your arsenal. Remember, you can always say, “Sorry guys, but I’m afraid that if I agree to figuring out the 2009 carpool schedule, I will have to renege on my commitment. I think you’ll be happier if you ask someone else.” That’s still a “no,” but it’s a little more sugarcoated.

Backing Out Gracefully

Take Stock of Your Activities
In the past two months, I’ve been sick frequently, and I knew something had to give. One night I wrote down everything I do in my life. Then, I went through each item and asked myself—does this stress me out? Simple, sure, but extremely effective. Obviously, we can’t just quit our jobs or ignore our families, but I did figure out that something I was doing for “fun” was causing more stress than joy. I was worried about letting down the other person involved in the project, but I just told him that I needed to look after my health and he was very supportive. I felt better immediately. If someone gives you a hard time, that’s his problem, not yours. You decide what’s best for you.

Be Firm but Vague
You don’t need to explain to your friends that you can’t host the holiday party because you just started a new medication and little Joey has been wetting the bed again and you want some time to focus on the lack of a sex life with your husband. TMI? Yes. But it’s also NOB—no one’s business. Don’t feel the need to explain yourself or defend your decision to break a commitment, and don’t be wishy-washy. Clearly state that you need to break the commitment and that your reasons are important—case closed.

Break Down and Cry Like a Baby
We want to do everything and make everyone happy, but this is real life and in the end, the most important thing is that you are able to get out of the commitment if it’s causing you that much stress. The truth is we can’t do everything and we can’t make everyone happy. If people are giving you flack about breaking a promise and are insisting that the world will end without you, you might have to just open up and let them see how the stress is affecting you. It’s not a sign of weakness to show emotion and be honest about your feelings.

At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is that you’re happy and doing whatever it takes to make yourself as close to stress-free as possible. If you make wise decisions in the beginning, things will be much easier. But remember, it’s better to break a commitment than to keep it and produce subpar results. Better to disappoint one person in the beginning than to show up with crappy, lopsided cupcakes and have a class full of frowny-faced youngsters. In five years (or five minutes), no one will care, but you’ll feel so relieved, you will hardly believe it.


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