Lay down the burden of emotional labour this Christmas, Stella's Circle tells women

The hustle and bustle of the holiday season can be both joyous and chaotic — especially for women who carry the brunt of the emotional burden of making things perfect.

That perfect Christmas myth is one Stella's Circle is hoping to bust, in a new information session aimed at helping women drop the stress and enjoy the holidays.

"When we think about our own Christmas experiences, like, what do you remember from last Christmas? Do you remember all the gifts … what is it that you remember," says Keri Chambers, an occupational therapist at Stella's Circle.

"I think when we start to do that, we start to drill down a little bit about what's important."

Stella's Circle is a St. John's-based organization that offers services to adults who face barriers — like poverty, trauma, homelessness, addictions and mental health challenges — that prevent them from fully participating in their community.

There's pressure to do it right — you have to do it right. And what is right? - Keri Chambers

This new winter speaker series has a focus on women's mental wellness, and kicks off Monday evening with its first session, called Harmony for the Holidays.

Monday's session in St. John's is open to anyone who identifies as a woman who wants to register to attend, either with a group, with family or solo.

Chambers said the plan is to approach Christmas stress the same way Stella's Circle would measure success for their other programming.

That includes talking to stakeholders, establishing what exactly success looks like, and what a positive outcome would be.

"We're gonna do the same kind of planning, except for you're the CEO of your family," Chambers said.

"Engaging your family, your kids, and asking, what is important? What do you want to get out of this?"

The ideal holiday season looks different for everyone, Chambers said, and that's something that can be hard to accept.

"There's pressure to do it right — you have to do it right. And what is right? I think that's what we're exploring is, what does that mean? Is there a right? And how can we help women explore that a little bit."

'You feel that pressure'

It's a challenge Amy Sheppard, a social worker at Stella's Circle, is herself familiar with and explored her own feelings on while preparing for Monday's session.

"What I talked about is sometimes I'm not fully present, I'm not really enjoying what's going on around me because I'm thinking about the next thing," Sheppard said.

"How do we work with women to kind of dig down a little bit and be mindful and present this Christmas?"

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A particular challenge is social media pressure in the modern era, Sheppard said, that shows off an idyllic-looking Christmas, without any context.

"That's what we're absorbing. I don't use Pinterest because of that kind of thing, but certainly I see all of those messages come in through my social media in particular, and I think there is a lot of pressure," she said.

"You feel that pressure.… It does become trendy and it does become a little bit about keeping up, and I think that's partly what we want to talk about at this session."

Manage expectations, including your own

Sheppard said between decorating, baking, gift-buying, wrapping, cooking, and entertaining, women have a lot on their plates — and delegating is key.

"There are actual empirical studies that show that women do more of the labour of Christmastime, particularly gift buying. We talked about the idea of emotional labour and women have to sort of manage a lot of what's going on," she said.

"As a group of women, we're gonna not give into that and maybe give each other some ideas about some ways to say no a little bit more or to delegate — and really delegate.… It is really around managing expectations and managing self-care."

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Chambers, meanwhile, said women shouldn't feel afraid to ask for help when they feel they need it.

"Let some things go and ask for help," she said.

"If we're preparing a big dinner, maybe ask Aunt Betty to bring a dessert — she's offered, let her bring dessert. But then don't make another dessert in case Aunt Betty doesn't make the right one or bring enough. Just really being OK with what happens, because it's usually fine."

The Harmony for the Holidays session is the first of three winter speaker sessions at Stella's Circle, registration for which is open on the groups website or Facebook page.

Their second session will be on the third Monday in January — sometimes referred to as Blue Monday — and a third later in the new year focusing on work-life balance.

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