Plan Your Escape Route Now (Before you get sucked into the holiday madness)

stress management tips Oct 04, 2023
Plan your escape route now before you get sucked into the holiday madness

Can you believe it’s November already? With Halloween over and Thanksgiving on the horizon, now is the perfect time to plan your escape route.

Escape route?

Yep. Your escape route. Off ramp. Pathway to less holiday stress. Whatever you want to call it, it’s time to look ahead, figure out how YOU want to feel during the holiday season, and plan accordingly.

I’ve said it before and I’m going to keep saying it: chronic stress is an enormous problem for mid-life women in general, and during menopause specifically.

Unrealistic and unfair cultural expectations of women are, in many ways, what got us here. But even when we’re aware of the ways we’re killing ourselves to be everything to everyone, we also don’t do a whole lot to dig ourselves out. Often because we’re simply too exhausted to fight what feels like an impossible uphill battle.

With that in mind, I’ve mapped out your holiday stress escape plan so you don’t have to!

Below are ten actionable steps for how you can reclaim your sanity over the holiday season. The key is to PLAN NOW so that you can adjust to-do lists and expectations well in advance.

Step one: Commit to total honesty with yourself and your partner about the toll the holidays take on you mentally and physically.

Decide how you want to feel instead. This is a completely inward-facing process, don’t let cultural “shoulds” or how others might feel cloud your judgment here. If you could push a button and have all your holiday hopes and dreams FOR YOURSELF come true, what would that look like?

Step two: Create a master holiday to-do list with your partner.

Create a shared note or google doc that you can both easily access and get it all written down.

Make sure to split bigger tasks like “holiday cards” into smaller sub-tasks like: book photo session, figure out what everyone is going to wear, design card, gather addresses, buy stamps, stuff and address envelopes, etc.

The goal here is two-fold: to create a master to-do list to stay organized, and to make invisible labor visible. It's important that your partner has a clear visual of the enormous mental load you take on during the holiday season.

Step three: Pare down the list.

Work with your partner to cross anything off the list that feels cumbersome, over-the-top, your kids have outgrown, is lacking in meaning, or doesn’t yield a whole lot of holiday magic, even if it is “tradition”.

Decide what you can execute with joy and cross off what’s going to create resentment. If this feels scary, remember that you can always add things back in for next year.

Keep and revise this pared down list from year to year to make holiday planning easier.

Step four: Simplify what’s left on the list.

I like to approach this by asking, “What would make this a more enthusiastic 'yes' for me?”

Maybe instead of exhausting yourself by making beautiful homemade baked goods or crafts for neighbors and teachers, you could simplify by purchasing something store-bought instead.

Maybe instead of spending hours planning, grocery shopping, cooking and cleaning up an elaborate holiday meal, you could make dinner reservations somewhere fun or fancy and free up a whole lot of time and mental load.

Maybe you can push certain parties or traditions to later in the year when life isn't so hectic.

Brainstorm the possibilities with your partner, make quick decisions, and write your simplified action items on the list.

Step five: Divide the tasks on the list between you and your partner to make holiday to-do’s more equitable.

Establish minimum standards for each task that you can both agree on, and then make sure your partner understands that he/she/they are 100% responsible for coordinating every aspect of their assigned tasks (planning and execution and clean up).

Resolve to step back and respect however they choose to accomplish the tasks on their list from that point forward.

Step six: Get everything on the calendar, and be sure to schedule in some down time as well.

Start by adding your top-tier-absolute-most-favorite-can’t-miss holiday activities/gatherings along with any holiday to-do’s from your list that you can schedule in advance.

Then, schedule some down time and put that on the calendar as well. You can block in as much or as little down time as you need to stay sane (this will look different for everyone), and then look at what time is left over.

Do you have some wiggle room left? Leave it open for last minute invitations or fill it up with second-tier holiday stuff. Whatever floats your boat.

Step seven: Give loved ones a heads up.

Let your kids know that this year you won’t be doing x activity, but you will still be doing y and z activities so, “Yay!”.

Let your parents know that you won’t be coming to the extended family white elephant gift exchange this year but you’re so excited to see them for the Christmas concert you all love.

And so on, and so forth.

Step Eight: Hold your boundaries.

It’s okay to acknowledge any disappointment and explain that for the sake of your mental and physical health you’re mindfully choosing to pare back this year. No one is going to argue for your physical and mental demise and if they do, call them out on it - they’ll quickly back peddle!

Step Nine: Reap the rewards of your planning.

Enjoy the holidays with less exhaustion and resentment. And enjoy the fact that you’re modeling healthy boundary setting and behavior to your partner and kids. You are teaching your people that the wellbeing of women matters, and this work helps to uplift all women. Well done!

Step Ten: Reflect and Revise

You're not going to get this all right on the first try. So after the holidays are over, sit down with your partner and reflect on what went well and what didn’t.

Were there activities you missed that you want to add back in next year?

Did you still totally overextend yourself?

Whatever your experience was, write it all down in your shared document so when next year rolls around, you don’t have to rely on memory alone.


Yes? No? Feeling overwhelmed already? The hardest part is making the master to do list (step 2), but after that there's the potential for so much peace of mind, and so much less stress and resentment. I promise, this is an investment of time and energy that is worth making.

 Need more support? I highly recommend Melissa Urban's The Book of Boundaries and Eve Rodsky's Fair Play. Both have been very, very helpful as I navigate the holidays around my house.

xo, Rebecca

*Please note: if you buy something through one of these links, I may earn a small affiliate commission at no cost to you.

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