Do you hear it playing on the radio or in the stores, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” and mumble under your breath, “Yeah, right! Not if you’re a working mom”? Let’s face it – while you want to make the holidays as festive as possible for your children and family, the holidays can be anxiety-inducing for working moms.
When you add the natural holiday anxiety to the typical accountant’s fourth-quarter anxiety, it’s no wonder you’ve been dreaming of a remote cabin in the woods with no Wifi (or maybe that’s just me). While working moms have the herculean task of managing their careers and families throughout the year, the holidays can bring an added layer of pressure that makes even the most organized accountant mom want to hide.
If you think about it, from Halloween to New Year’s, moms everywhere have to put their needs aside to make sure everyone else enjoys their holidays. I remember when my kids were little, and I made their Halloween costumes myself; while I loved the creative outlet it provided, I look back and feel so much compassion for that younger version of me who thought that’s what good moms do.
Good working moms make their kid’s costumes, stay up until midnight working so that they can attend the Halloween parade at school, say yes to hosting Thanksgiving even though it would be incredibly challenging, agree to bake for the Holiday Bake Sale at school even though it means getting up at 5 am to get it all done, and spend hours trying to upload the best family picture for this year’s Christmas card even though store-bought cards would have been fine. Can you relate, or is it just me?
As a coach for accountant moms, many clients come to our sessions feeling very overwhelmed this time of year, and it’s easy to see why. Even if it causes them tremendous anxiety, their mission is to make each holiday as memorable as possible for everyone else.
They often share holiday memories of growing up and nostalgically want to recreate those same memories their mothers did for them. When I ask whether their mothers were working moms trying to balance their accounting careers with their family life, they say no, but they still feel guilty not giving their children the same holiday experience.
Believe me, I get it. I had a stay-at-home mom for almost my entire childhood, and I had this unrealistic vision of how I was going to be just like her even though I’ve worked the entire time I’ve been a mother. The funny thing is that years later, she admitted that even she was unrealistic in how she tried to make the holidays special for my brother and me.
For this episode, I’m not going to give you a bunch of tips and suggestions for navigating the holiday season. Instead, I’m going to help you deal with the feeling of anxiety.
If you’ve been listening to this podcast for a while, you already know how to say no, set boundaries, and better manage your time. This episode is about what to do when you’re dreading or in the middle of feeling holiday anxiety.
This week I’m going to discuss why we experience anxiety and what to do about it.
Why we experience anxiety
If I asked you what your 3 most common emotions are during the holidays, I’m going to bet that one of them is either stress or anxiety. If that’s true, you’re not alone – studies have shown that 70 – 80% of moms feel varying degrees of stress and anxiety during the holidays.
While many people will offer tips about making the holidays special without burning yourself out or that self-care is critical during this time of year, I’m going to help you in a different way. I believe knowledge is power, so I’m going to drop some knowledge.
The reason we experience anxiety is that humans have evolved to experience anxiety as a survival mechanism. Anxiety is simply the experience of hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, which our brain releases when it senses potential danger.
The interesting thing is that the potential danger when humans lived in caves was a predator wanting to kill us. Our human brain released cortisol and adrenaline to increase our heart rate and pump blood to the rest of our body to prepare us to run and escape if needed.
Ironically, that potential danger nowadays could be something as simple as an invitation to a Christmas party or having to see certain in-laws that you don’t particularly care for. The lower, primitive part of our brain, which has been with us since we lived in caves, cannot distinguish between a predator outside the cave versus having to see your sister-in-law that doesn’t like you very much.
Your brain releases the same anxiety-inducing hormones, cortisol, and adrenaline because it believes it’s protecting you. The truth is that your lower brain means well when it causes holiday anxiety because, with everything you normally have going on, balancing your accounting career with being a mom, your brain kicks into survival mode when there’s more on your plate.
It’s important to point out that we are all sold the idea that we should be the happiest during the holidays. We have months of Christmas movies on the Hallmark channel depicting perfect family gatherings and non-stop love in the air.
It’s no wonder you feel anxiety when you don’t match up with the expectations of what the holidays should be. I went through a Martha Stewart phase years ago and drove myself crazy trying to have a Martha Stewart Thanksgiving and Christmas, only to realize that Martha has an entire team of people that make the end product look perfect and effortless.
The truth is that when we’re not happy all the time, our brain equates that to mean something must be wrong with us. That’s when those mean girl thoughts sneak in, making you feel like an inept, horrible mother.
I want you to spend less time on the details about why you’re feeling holiday anxiety and more time on what you can do about it. You can always make some changes in what you do or don’t do during the holidays, but I want to help you now with the anxiety you might be feeling.
What to do about it
It doesn’t matter how many children you have or their ages; holiday anxiety for working moms rarely goes away. My children and step-children are in their late 20s and early 30s, and I still feel holiday anxiety.
No offense to our spouses, but we really do get the brunt of the responsibilities for the holidays. We’re the ones who typically get the gift lists, purchase and wrap the gifts, decorate the house, send out the cards, make plans, prepare the meals, and worry about everyone’s happiness.
Even if your spouse is helpful, like my husband, there’s just a different innate pressure moms take on during the holidays. Some of it’s self-made, but not all of it.
So in order to help you better deal with holiday anxiety when it strikes, I want to share some helpful things to understand that I learned from a fellow coach:
#1 – Making anxiety a problem is creating more anxiety – as I shared before, we have evolved to have anxiety show up when something is wrong. So the Catch-22 is that when we make anxiety showing up as wrong, we are compounding our anxiety.
We make our anxiety worse by having negative thoughts about our anxiety. In other words, we release even more cortisol and adrenaline when we make ourselves wrong for feeling the effects of cortisol and adrenaline.
The solution is to stop making yourself wrong for experiencing anxiety. Simply remind yourself that you are an evolved human and that evolved humans experience anxiety.
The more self-compassion you can feel, the easier it will be to lessen your anxiety.
#2 – Trying to get rid of or resisting your anxiety might seem helpful, but it’s not – it might sound counter-intuitive, but resisting anxiety only compounds the belief that something is wrong. Again, when we think something is wrong, we create even more anxiety.
In other words, when we resist the fact that we’re feeling anxiety, we end up having anxiety about our anxiety.
The solution is to learn how to allow and process anxiety. I shared how to process an emotion in a previous podcast, but let me review it now.
To process an emotion, as opposed to resisting it or pushing against it, you simply name it, describe it as if you were describing it to an alien who’s never had a human emotion before, take some deep breaths, and allow the cortisol and adrenaline to move through and out of your body.
I also shared this in a previous podcast, but the interesting thing is that it only takes 90 seconds for hormones like cortisol and adrenaline to be released from your bloodstream. So taking a few minutes to name, describe, breathe, and allow will give your body a chance to release it.
#3 – Love on yourself – there’s a reason that self-care is such a hot topic for working moms; it matters, especially if you experience holiday anxiety.
If you’ve never seen the tv show “Parks and Recreation,” you have to check out YouTube videos of the characters Tom and Donna having “Treat Yo Self” days. Once a year, these two characters spend a day treating themselves to anything they want.
They go to spas, get massages, buy whatever they want, and just pamper themselves. It’s hilarious to watch what they decide to do for “Treat Yo Self” days, but it’s even funnier to see how challenging it is for some of the other characters on the show to wrap their brains around choosing to pamper themselves for a day.
Loving on yourself isn’t only about giving yourself some extra TLC; it’s about understanding that you are not broken because you feel anxiety. The truth is that you are just being a normal human if you experience holiday anxiety.
The solution is to focus on what’s right about you, even with your anxiety. Think about all the right things you do despite your anxiety.
If I asked the people who love you the most, what would they say is right about you? What would your past self be amazed about your life right now?
You can pamper yourself like Tom and Donna with external things, but I also want you to consider pampering yourself with words of encouragement. Begin to love on yourself by giving yourself some much-deserved credit more often.
Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of where anxiety comes from and some helpful ways to deal with it. I find laughter is one of the best ways to balance out holiday anxiety, so go watch some “Treat Yo Self” highlights and have yourself a self-compassionate holiday season.
- While working moms have the herculean task of managing their careers and families throughout the year, the holidays can bring an added layer of pressure that makes even the most organized accountant mom want to hide.
- The reason we experience anxiety is that humans have evolved to experience anxiety as a survival mechanism.
- The lower, primitive part of your brain, which has been with us since we lived in caves, cannot distinguish between a predator outside the cave versus having to see your sister-in-law that doesn’t like you very much.