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How 6 Women Handled Their Most Stressful Holiday Moments

Deciding where to go for the holidays, dealing with the absence of a loved one and other moments that showed these women what they're made of
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There's a lot of prep that happens during the holiday season — and much of it can be described in one word: stressful. Between surprising your loved ones with special gifts and planning gatherings for your family and office alike, the time between turkey day and New Year's Day flies by. But for some women, the previous 10 months can dictate the sentiment of the holiday season, especially if they battled extreme hardship. From divorces and death in the families to medical emergencies and other strife, here, seven brave women express how they overcome the most difficult situations amidst the joy of an otherwise happy time of year. Let their stories of hope, triumph and bravery inspire you to get through the long lines, the family tension and the ups and downs you know you'll face this go 'round.

Image via Imaxtree

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Hosting a Dinner Party for 20 People Taught Me How to Savor Moments
As anyone who has hosted friends for dinner and drinks, entertaining isn't an easy-peasy gig, but one that requires continuous upkeep for the duration of the affair. That's a lesson creative director of ORLY Beauty Shanee Pink learned when she decided to host a holiday dinner for 20 of her most beloved folks. Because she's a self-proclaimed perfectionist, yet a novice cook and a full-time employee, she struggled to balance her high expectations with effective execution. After countless trips to the grocery store to ensure she had the exact ingredients to make every dish delectable, she found herself up and on her feet from the second guests arrived -- and then some.

Half-way through the meal, she realized she was holding her breath as she was serving and the self-inflicted stress on her body was taking a toll. So, she paused, made a getaway to the restroom and exhaled. "I was so focused on making a good impression on my guests that I lost sight of the point of a holiday dinner," she explains. "Realizing how much pressure I had put on myself, I made a decision that the work has been done, and now it's time to let it all be and just enjoy the moment with my family and friends."

The lesson of being present is one that's echoed throughout the year, but especially during the holidays, when you think back on the blessings and experiences of the past 12 months. It's been an education moment that's impacted other areas of Pink's life. "As women we sometimes have such high expectations of ourselves to 'do it all' and be the most amazing girlfriend/wife, co-worker and host, but sometimes we just got to let something go, so we can actually enjoy life."

Image via Shanee Pink

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Spending My First Christmas Alone Taught Me the Value of Perspective
When mental health and recovery advocate Nancy Virden woke up on Christmas Day in 2014, she realized she had nowhere to go. That year, her ex-husband had moved out in September and her two grown sons were struggling with the separation of their parents, with one temporarily withdrawing from the family and another battling depression and anxiety attacks. With neither of her children able to make the trek to visit her, she decided to spend the day planning a New Year's Eve party in an effort to avoid self-pity. Instead of focusing on the inner turmoil wreaking havoc on her family, she wanted to channel her perspective to goodness.

"This is a practice I am continuing in a variety of ways over the holidays," says Virden. "For more than 30 adult years, I used to face the season with some emotional pain over losses. That has changed. Now holidays are moments for which to look forward. New questions guide me into peace and contentment. Who can I bless? Who else needs a meal? Do I know someone in need of company?" she says. "Feeling better feels better! Thanksgiving to New Year's is an adventure instead of a chore."

Image via Nancy Virden

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After a Year of Family Losses and Setbacks, I Gained the Courage to Say 'No'
In 2015, Christiana Hill felt like she was falling apart. While the first eight months of the year were spent dealing with the aftermath of several family losses, the others were filled with helping her husband overcome a serious personal injury and unemployment. Trying to keep everything -- and everyone -- together sent her to the hospital after she pushed herself to the point of exhaustion. And even when her husband landed his dream job, it required the whole family to relocate several states away in two weeks and to spend the holidays without family. Though there was no choice, since it was a job he wanted and her clan needed, Hill couldn't shake feeling sadness, fear and grief, and missing her extended network, especially after a tough year.

"Instead of leaning into the support of loved ones, we were expected to spend the holidays surrounded by new coworkers and friends we barely knew with smiles plastered on our faces and the appearance that all was well," she shares. "I felt torn between grief for my family, happiness for my husband, and anxiety that I couldn't be everywhere for everyone. My tongue felt like sandpaper in my mouth because small talk about where we came from and what our stories are would inevitably lead to stories of our loss and the decision to start over here in this new place. I felt like I was barely keeping it together as buzz after buzz after buzz went off in my purse."

The experience taught both Hill and her husband how to prioritize what was right for their marriage and their family over obligations that take them away from happiness. "Holidays are a time when we're asked to give and give to others unselfishly. We're expected to say 'yes' and go out of our way for others at our own expense a majority of the times. This holiday in particular taught me that it's more than OK -- it's actually extremely important -- that you stop and listen to your own heart," she says. "Take obligation, 'should,' and expectation off the table and ask yourself what you really need. If you need to set boundaries and go home early, do that. If you need to have a good cry on a friend's shoulder, that's ok. If you need to share what's going on for you, share -- don't keep it in."

Image via Christiana Hill

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After Fighting About Where to Spend Holidays, I Finally Put My Foot Down
For teacher Valeria Stryker, she had one annual argument she could always expect to have with her husband during the holidays. In fact, it's the disagreement many couples face as Thanksgiving rears its head: Whose family will we celebrate with? For seven years -- through their courtship and engagement -- they had two Thanksgiving dinners, two Christmas Eves and two Christmas mornings to appease both mothers. This chaotic schedule led to stress and a lack of time to just be together and enjoy the season.

Finally, Stryker put her foot down -- and threw the ball to their families to figure out the solution. "Until the mothers could learn to share, my husband and I would not attend either celebration. So, the first year we were married, my husband I ate a Thanksgiving rib-eye in front of the television, partied with our friends on Christmas Eve and spent Christmas morning sleeping in," she says.

"It was difficult to stand up to two such strong women, whom I love dearly, but my sanity and my relationship depended on it. I learned that sometimes you have to stop worrying about other people and their feelings. Now, our mothers share the hosting duties of the holidays because they know what happens when they don't 'play nice.' As for me, as a general de-stressor before attending any family event, I meditate to clear my energy... And alcohol always helps!"

Image via Valeria Stryker

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