How To Say 'No' During The Holidays

Feeling overwhelmed with endless obligations, expectations and commitments? Here's how to say No during the holidays...
crossed legs

Image Credit: Cassie / Veda House

As we head full-speed into the holiday season, our inboxes are filling up with holiday party invites, requests to bring that extra side dish, pressure-filled calls from family members, nagging professional obligations and more. The word “overwhelming” doesn’t even begin to describe the rapid pace of the season. Here’s a secret our mothers didn’t always share: we don’t have to do it all. We’re here to give you our explicit permission to gracefully decline whatever’s over-filling your plate this time of year… unless it’s cookies. You should always eat the cookies...

Scenario 1: You’ve received multiple event invites that fall on the same day, but you can only attend one.

We’re here to admit: this is a tough one. It’s so wonderful to be invited to multiple gatherings during any time of the year. However, having friends, relatives and colleagues vie for your attention during the holidays can add stress to an already busy season. We’re fans of making decisions like this based on our answers to two very basic questions:

  1. Which event will be the most meaningful for you to attend? We’ve all had a great time attending ugly Christmas sweater parties over the years, but that doesn’t mean we have to attend every year. If there’s a more meaningful event on the horizon – for example, that charity event you’ve always wanted to attend or your sister-in-law’s gallery opening – we say go for it.

  2. Which host will truly cherish your attendance? The office party could be fun and you might finally be able to pitch that idea you’ve had brewing all year long, but the department head throwing the bash hardly knows you. Attending your dear friend’s holiday housewarming party, on the other hand, will probably mean a great deal her.

Once you’ve decided which event to attend, simply declining invitations with a gracious email or phone call should suffice. Just be sure to let those doing the inviting know how grateful you are for the invitation and that you’d love to try and attend in years to come.

Scenario 2: Your friend/coworker/family member keeps calling to complain about her stressful life/job/in-laws/etc.

Truth be told, we’ve been on both sides of this scenario. We’re not proud to have ever been that girl, but we all just need to talk it out sometimes. In this case, however, we’re referring to the repeat offender – that negative Nellie who is continually trying to get you and everyone around them out of the holiday spirit. This issue can be troublesome year-round, but being bombarded by negativity during the holidays is overwhelming. Besides, that’s not what this time of year is all about, right? In our experience, this situation can be handled one of two ways:

  1. Temporary avoidance. If this person’s sad rants and pity parties can be temporarily ignored, we’re all for it. There’s no need to be insensitive, but silencing your phone or letting a call go to voicemail so you can meet your own holiday obligations and maintain your sanity is perfectly acceptable. When you have some down time and can get in the right frame of mind to commiserate, you can always return the call.

  2. Limited engagement. Perhaps this person (or this relationship) truly needs your attention. That’s okay! Simply set limits on how long you engage in a conversation. There is absolutely nothing wrong with letting someone know you only have a few minutes to chat. We’re all busy this time of year and your need decorate your home, bake pies and wrap up that huge project for a client before year’s end is just as important as her need to vent.

Saying no to whining, gossip and the tendency to bemoan all things in life is your prerogative this time of year. And hey – we’ve got your back.

Scenario 3: You’re feeling pressured to stick with tradition instead of mixing things up this year.

We’re big fans of traditions around here. They can be warm, comforting and a rare constant in an ever-changing world. Sadly, they can also be stifling to those interested in trying new things or introducing varied traditions every now and then. If you’re looking to mix things up a bit this year by attending different events or choosing to spend the holidays with one side of the family instead of the other, we’ve got a few tips.

  1. Start small. For families and groups of friends with solid, decade-long traditions, change can be downright painful. If you’re up against those who aren’t interested in change, small variations on a tradition over the course of a few years might be a safe bet.

  2. Discuss the “whys” behind your decision to change the way you celebrate. While you still may be met with resistance when you announce new plans, explaining why you want to do things differently can help in the long-term.

  3. Accept that others may not understand your choices. This is a tough one, dear Clementines. There will always be a few people who just don’t like your decisions and, oftentimes, they’ll be fairly vocal about their dismay. Accept their disappointment and love them anyway. It will be difficult – no two ways about it -- but stand your ground and then offer them a hug. We’ve found that it’s very hard to argue with a loving embrace.

Scenario 4: Your boss has decided to pile on the work, even though you’re up to your eyeballs in work.

You’ve got 14 lists going and your boss just handed down a huge project that was, of course, due yesterday. Problem is, there is no way you’ll be able to start and finish the project by deadline. We’ve all been there and there’s nothing worse than worrying about your job at the holidays. Our favorite way of handling situations like this is two-fold:

  1. Make one more list. That’s right. Make a list of all work-related items and projects you have to wrap up before the end of the year. Include collaborators and vendors who may not get back to you thanks to holiday schedules.

  2. Have a chat with your boss. Talk through the list and ask your boss to help you prioritize the three (rather than 10) things that absolutely have to be wrapped up within the next few weeks. Oftentimes your boss is so focused on what they do that they sort of forget what it is you do all day long. There’s nothing wrong with offering up a gentle reminder.

Scenario 5: Every time you turn around, expensive events and parties keep popping up and you simply can’t afford to say yes.

We get it. The holidays can be a fairly tight time of year, financially. When you’re finding it tough to pony up for happy hours, coffee dates, cocktail parties, event fees and gifts, it’s time to get real. Here's what we do:

  1. Set a budget. Ask yourself what you can afford and don’t spend beyond the limit you set for yourself. If that means gracefully bowing out of a shopping trip in the city and a few fancy holiday parties, so be it. Your friends and family will understand and we promise: once the holidays are over, you’ll feel much better knowing that you didn’t break the bank.

Regardless of what life is throwing your way, we hope you can use a few of these tips – pulled directly from our own trials and tribulations – to help lift you above the overwhelm this holiday season. And hey, have a few tips of your own? Fantastic. Share what you know in the comment section and let’s get through this together!

p.s. Overwhelmed with holiday craziness? Try our two-minute meditation trick!