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Holiday stress hits women harder

Laura BaileyVail, CO Colorado
Kristen Henderson of Greeley, takes a moment to gather her family at the Foothills Mall in Fort Collins during a day of shopping, Sunday, Dec. 10, 2006.(AP Photo/Fort Collins Coloradoan, Michael Seamans)
AP | FORT COLLINS COLORADOAN

FORT COLLINS, Colo. (AP) – Are the halls still waiting to be decked? The gifts still in shopping bags begging for pretty paper and bows that you plan to buy maybe tomorrow?Are homemade gingerbread men as unrealistic as the sugarplums dancing in your head?The list of holiday tasks seems endless this time of year and the pressures to create a Martha Stewart Christmas can fill the holidays with high anxiety. For women, the stress can be particularly high because of old-fashioned gender roles that play out during the holidays.It’s easy to get caught up in the demands of the season, but for women on the edge of nervous breakdowns, there are ways to alleviate the stress. Many revolve around tasks as simple as thinking about what you really want the holidays to be, experts say.It starts by recognizing that both women and men have idealistic and unrealistically high expectations of the holidays that lead to stress, says psychologist Dr. Michael Daine, director of the counseling center at Colorado State University.”For women those expectations are even higher because society puts more on women to do it all,” he said.The higher the expectations, the higher the stress, so women need to try to determine which expectations are realistic and which ones to throw out the door.”At some level, they have to decide what do I really want out of the holiday, not what does everybody else want. If you do it for everybody else, that’s when you get frazzled,” he said.

Daine also says Christmas often brings out old-fashioned gender roles for women, who are expected to do most of the festive tasks from baking to organizing holiday parties to buying the grab-bag gift for the company party.Women can help alleviate these pressures by delegating responsibilities and setting limits, he said.”You don’t have to be the only one decorating the tree or making dinner. Give your husband something to do, give your kids something to do,” he said.In general women still do a higher percentage of house work and chores than men, said Patrice Quadrel, a Fort Collins marriage and family therapist.”During the holiday time, that is magnified,” she said. Quadrel said women often have a hard time delegating, but if they try they’ll find their spouses are often willing to help.”It’s important for women to ask for what they need. Oftentimes our husbands and significant others are happy to help if they only know what to do,” she said.Quadrel said the pressures of staging the perfect holiday are often self-imposed, but women have a choice in that. Like Daine, she recommends that women re-evaluate their priorities in order to enjoy the season rather than just going along with what they, or society, think it’s supposed to be.”We have to believe in our ability to author our own holiday instead of doing it the way we think we should,” she said.

Quadrel suggests scaling back activities that are more stress than pleasure. They should also lessen expectations of themselves in general, she said. The holidays compound daily tasks women have to do so it’s healthy to accept that not everything will run perfectly, she said.”There’s no way the holiday stuff is going to get done without something else giving. Women need to accept that that’s OK. That could mean the house isn’t as clean as we’d like or we’re eating take-out food more than we’d like, but that’s OK,” she said.Quadrel also encourages women to resist the idea that there is a perfect gift out there.

“That is a huge level of stress to put ourselves under,” she said. “You could be spending that two hours that you’ve spent searching and searching and searching face to face with someone you love,” she said.Another idea is to focus energy on doing just one meaningful tradition well each year, said Monique Tilford, acting executive director of a Maryland-based organization that advocates simpler, less materialistic lifestyles.Whether that be caroling, donating toys or another activity, women can find one thing they really enjoy and focus on making it a family or individual tradition, said Tilford who runs the Center for a New American Dream, in Takoma Park, Md.This story from the Fort Collins Coloradoan.

Center for a New American Dream: http://www.newdream.org/


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