Feeling: Anxious

November 11, 2021

I have no margin right now. It’s not a permanent thing – it relates to some finite commitments (talk I will give next Friday at a large system-wide meeting), the fact that it is residency interview season, and the whole “HOLIDAYS ARE APPROACHING” panic.

Yes, panic. No, I’m not feeling full of fun and coziness about it. I feel completely overwhelmed. Because it’s not like work or the rest of life is going to stop while I have to figure out:

Office gifts (clinical + GME side)

Resident holiday party (I am hoping our program administrator will take the lead on on this, but it’s still going to require some work from me — especially spreading the word among faculty)

Kids’ gifts

Family gifts (mostly just nieces/nephews) + Hanukkah gathering (though I have already decide this will be a takeout/catering situation)

G’s birthday party (will be outdoors, at a local playground shelter. Glad we are doing this, but now that it’s coming up I’m panicking)

Josh’s bday present

Holiday/New Years’ cards (I like having sent them, but I have come to detest the process)

I will add the fact that this year’s big winter holidays feature: call week for me (Christmas) followed by call week for Josh (New Years). And during this time, our nanny will be on a (very well-deserved) vacation on a tropical island!

ALSO. We are traveling for Thanksgiving but Josh is also on call for much of that holiday week, and I have to strategically schedule COVID tests and decipher quarantine rules.

Couple this with the fact that I am in the thick of residency interview season (busy!), would like to submit an abstract to a meeting with a resident (due mid-Dec), and we are interviewing for a new physician team member (yay, but also time consuming!) — it is just A LOT.

And when too many events cover one’s calendar, they start to feel un-fun even if they are technically supposed to be fun.

AND AND AND I have literally nothing good to wear to these events. Well, not nothing. But I’m not excited about anything in my closet and my less forgiving outfits are not going to work — and I haven’t had energy to put into that, either!

PLUS we are under contract on a house (I actually forgot this minor detail when I was writing the above) with a planned closing in early January.

So, yeah. I guess one might question why I am therefore bothering to write long blog posts about these things rather than getting a 5 am jump on my inbox, but for whatever reason, I just don’t want to give this practice up.

Happy Thursday. And Veterans Day!

She feels zero stress about the above list of so-called “problems”


  • Reply Evi November 11, 2021 at 6:13 am

    Good luck with your list! I no longer send holiday cards, but do a conscious effort to connect with people during the holiday season (e.g catch up via what’s app conversation).

  • Reply caitlyn November 11, 2021 at 6:17 am

    I have automated as much as I can when it comes to holiday cards and it has been transformative. For me, I loved hand writing the addresses but WOW did that take a lot of time. So, I finally got the envelopes preprinted and it’s a game changer.

    • Reply Megan November 11, 2021 at 1:43 pm

      I have also tried to automate as much as possible with cards. AND my 10 yo loves helping with the assembly line so I think it might be something A would like to help with. She loves inserting cards, using sponge to seal, adding stamp and mailing label and using our return address stamper. It turns into a fun activity for her which is so helpful to me.

  • Reply Omdg November 11, 2021 at 7:02 am

    Well, the good news is that if you don’t do anything of those things, basically nothing will happen. Kid would get over a less than perfect party, or not getting the perfect gift. Nobody is going to notice if the resident holiday party isn’t just right. I mean good I hope so, and if not, we’ll they need to get a life. And holiday pictures… I am having trouble relating to this since I’ve never done them and never will. Not saying your anxiety is dumb, but you do have choices here.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger November 11, 2021 at 7:30 am

      Totally get that – that was my point with the pic of G that literally none of the above are real problems. I need to figure out what to triage and what to totally half-ass. Because you’re right, it will be fine either way.

      PS: Park parties sound great for covid so I’m glad we’re doing it outdoors, but man it’s SO much easier to just pay a gymnastics place or something to run the whole thing!

  • Reply Michelle November 11, 2021 at 7:07 am

    This feels like an episode of BOBW. Are the office holiday parties and holiday cards things you want to do or are they expectations of you? If they’re the latter, those are the easiest things to drop.
    You need to hold on to your sanity during this season.

    • Reply Grateful Kae November 11, 2021 at 7:18 am

      I feel like what she may be experiencing (because I feel the exact same way) is that these are things she DOES want to do/ gets happiness from/ ultimately enjoys….when they are done. But getting to that point is the tricky and sometimes slightly ugly part. I feel the same way about holiday cards. I love having sent cards after I’ve sent them, but it feels like a burden to actually have them made (picking the card, choosing the prints, etc. etc.). But once they are done, I always love how they turned out and they make me happy! I am actually looking at 4 of our previous years’ holiday cards still hung up in my office right now! haha. If we could all just maybe get 8 day weeks from November-December (with that extra day reserved as a “personal life work day”), that would be super helpful. 😉

      • Reply Michelle November 11, 2021 at 7:35 am

        Yes! With an extra hour in each day. 😁

      • Reply omdg November 11, 2021 at 8:30 am

        Yep, this is basically how I feel when I have to plan a vacation.

      • Reply Elisabeth November 11, 2021 at 3:09 pm

        Ditto this! I think the key comes to recognizing what can go. Like completely go. Remove entirely. Maybe ONLY for this year. Or maybe send things out late? I’ve quit a few projects lately and it has felt…great. I’m also (taking a cue from Oliver Burkeman) telling myself it’s okay to FAIL at some things. I like using that word because it’s helping me get over this obsession with gold stars and getting it all done.
        But I know the feeling of being completely overwhelmed so nothing is fun anymore. It sucks. And even with triaging it can still feel completely overwhelming and unpleasant.

        I second getting reinforcements, especially from the kids. When my husband + a family friend’s birthday coincided I had the kids wrap most of the presents. It killed an hour, it was done (and their haphazard wrapping was cute), and it ticked something off MY to-do list (and the kids felt like they had contributed). Annabel looks like she has better handwriting than most adults; could she be a real help with prepping holiday cards and wrapping gifts?

  • Reply Chelsea November 11, 2021 at 7:31 am

    Can you outsource some of the kid holiday shopping/ G’s birthday party planning to your nanny? I would imagine she could make a good guess what your extended family (and kids for that matter) would like. Especially if they are technically Josh’s relatives. I mean, they aren’t actually related to you either…

    As for the resident party – I feel like that doesn’t meet the gender swap test. It is hard for me to imagine a male program director feeling like he needs to run the party planning committee. Maybe I’m wrong, but I see that responsibility immediately being dumped on an administrative assistant.

    And finally, while your feelings are acutely tied to the expectations of the holidays, I don’t think it’s true to say the underlying issues causing them are really temporary. It makes me think of the recent Cal Newport podcast where he writes about most people doing about 20% too much. You are probably trying to do too much – not just now, but always. If everything goes perfectly, it’s all fine, but – as you say – there’s no margin for one extra thing.

    As for Cal and his schedule, don’t forget he’s getting paid by Georgetown for the time he spends doing stuff like writing articles and doing podcasts. You are never going to get paid by the hospital for your hobbies the way he is. You are never going to have as much time as he does for all the extra stuff you want to do.

    I write all this as someone who is always tempted to do too much and probably has 20% too much on her plate as well. Because life has so many cool and interesting possibilities and it stinks to say no to any of them.

    But hopefully at least offloading some of the administrative expectations will help you feel a bit better about everything.

    • Reply Elisabeth November 11, 2021 at 3:11 pm

      Such great insights re. margin and hobbies/family commitments (somehow I suspect Cal’s wife does most of the holiday shopping)…

  • Reply Gwinne November 11, 2021 at 7:34 am

    What Omdg said. Yes, there’s a lot here! But a lot of it could be done less than perfectly. Having Bought a house in semi recent history I suspect a lot of your stress is really about the house but what you’re seeing is the small things….

    I had left you a comment about Oliver Burkeman on your last post that disappeared so will reiterate. I say this without judgement as I tend this way too. Productivity is not the goal for him; he’s actually anti productivity. But very much about defining how you want to send your time, which is to say live…

    You hold yourself to high standards in all areas. What can you do at 80% or not at all?

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger November 11, 2021 at 7:57 am

      Even though somehow I did not get your comment, I am reading 4000 hours right now and YES. I am so the exact kind of person that he is trying (gently and in a loving way!) to get to relax.

      • Reply gwinne November 11, 2021 at 9:06 am

        And FWIW, Tiny Boy is not having a birthday party of any kind because November & COVID. Small benefit of living in the north?!

  • Reply Holly November 11, 2021 at 7:37 am

    ACK! This is a lot. And I can absolutely relate to that feeling of anxiety that comes from having very little margin while having to triage what are the most important priorities in a list of good things. Ultimately at least they are good-ish things? And I feel like your skill set is suited to figure out all the puzzle pieces, but man that is a lot. Hoping you get some clarity on what’s most important to you, and that helps you make a plan. Fingers crossed!

  • Reply Kat November 11, 2021 at 7:45 am

    The other commenters are very correct.

    Outsource gifts to your nanny (maybe give budget+ 2-3 ideas).
    Outsource holiday gifts and party planning to an admin (and think of you need an associate director next year).
    Outsource the party to a babysitter+nanny or even a teen cousin in the family? Also I’m sure there are performers who can help plan for $ (clown? Facepainter?).
    Send Valentine’s day cards this year.

    You need to focus on the talk, the hiring, residency interviews, and the abstract. Those will actually still matter in January. The rest matter but don’t need to be done by SHU.

    Josh’s birthday, travel+COVID testing, and finding outfits are things that are not work that are SHU specific. The rest are just not.

  • Reply Abby November 11, 2021 at 7:47 am

    Maybe dump as much of the holiday planning party on a administrative assistant if you can? They can probably do a great job and free up time for you. And they could write and send multiple reminder emails to faculty? And set aside a few hours one night or weekend to pick all of the gifts and order them online fully wrapped.

  • Reply Kat November 11, 2021 at 7:47 am

    Oh and get the consultant who did this wardrobe to figure out your clothes again.

  • Reply Sara B. November 11, 2021 at 7:48 am

    Totally understand – I think it is especially hard when you feel squeezed this time of year. It feels like this is the season you’re supposed to have more margin. We have a long weekend coming up, and I’m looking forward to it, but also struggling to fit in everything this month with that day off and Thanksgiving, too. I’m not finding good ways to do less this month even if there are fewer work days.
    Also, I totally understand about the resident holiday party – ours comes with high expectations, and is one of those “highlights of the year” – it really can be a big deal in some places. We have a VERY social residency, and the morale hit from no big parties last year was huge; the need for a big party and the expectations this year are huge here.

  • Reply Mrs. Candid November 11, 2021 at 8:01 am

    Hi Sarah, I highly recommend the latest lazy genius episode no 234, just listen to the first two and a half minutes, in case time is a crunch. It will help you make some good decisions. Basically, Kendra suggests that we are allowed to let go of a few things ONLY FOR THIS YEAR, if that will help reduce the overwhelm. We need not imagine and feel guilty that we are breaking a tradition or anything. We are allowed to choose what’s right for us and for our family for this particular year, this particular season of life. We can resume the old traditions, if we feel like, next year onwards.

  • Reply Kait P. November 11, 2021 at 8:33 am

    For the gifts, I highly recommend gift cards. especially for the extended family members and non family members. No, it’s not overly personalized or “fun” but it’s still thoughtful and the recipient will be able to get themselves something they actually want or have an excuse to go to a particular resturants or store they may not other wise have went to. So in a way, you give them the gift of experience instead of something random. Holidays are stressful and if you’re in a season where buying individualized gifts just isn’t feasible, then there’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking the simple road and opting for gift cards. 🙂

    The holidays are always a busy season…and unfortunately always seem to be the hardest thing to plan.

  • Reply Katie November 11, 2021 at 9:14 am

    I really like all these specific ideas from commenters, especially the outsourcing of buying kid gifts as that is SO hard for me. A couple other thoughts. For Josh’s birthday, maybe an IOU for a really nice dinner out once you guys get through the holidays? For office gifts, may I suggest cash? Everyone likes cash 🙂 For the park party, we recently attended a similar 4 y/o party and they had set up some stomp rockets which were a huge hit. For cards, since you’re moving soon, why not wait and send belated new year greetings from our new home kind of cards? You’ll probably have some cute candid holiday photos by then and could kill 2 birds with letting everyone know your new address.

    • Reply Irene November 11, 2021 at 9:24 am

      I was going to say this too! I have gotten a handful of happy new year cards and really enjoy those, would be especially good if they came from your new address!

      My daughter is going to a small outdoor birthday party in a friends yard this weekend and the event planning appears to be have hit chocolate and run around (it’s a lot colder here). She’s excited! Don’t over think this.

      But I am with you on not having a lot of margin and feeling stressed. And I don’t squeeze in nearly as much as you!

      • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger November 11, 2021 at 9:39 am

        OOMG. GENIuS. Will delay cards until we can send from new house and announce new address! Then I can wait to send until January and it would actually make sense. YESSSSS.

        • Reply Nicole Vinson November 11, 2021 at 11:47 am

          YES! Great idea!

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger November 11, 2021 at 9:51 am

      Oh it’s cash! But it still takes coordinating – plus cards, collecting, etc

  • Reply Jennifer Killelea November 11, 2021 at 9:32 am

    I get it because I am also in this with ALL THE THINGS. November is somehow worse than September for my calendar this year. I cannot agree with Kait P. more – it feels like a good time to be a genius about the things that matter! (A few decisions that I have made: everyone expect immediate family are getting movie vouchers for the holidays, Christmas dinner will be mainly catered, and no, we don’t need matching pjs this year) And on a side note: I also hated everything I owned for ‘nice’ occasions (of which I suddenly have many coming up after almost two years of NONE) , and have found some very forgiving tops and dresses from Boden. Thank goodness for drapey jersey dresses. Also, great suggestion about about merging holiday cards with a new address announcement!

  • Reply Beth November 11, 2021 at 10:13 am

    I totally agree with everyone above. I think you have to identify the things that are truly critical and must be done by you and drop or delegate the rest. Can you block a couple of hours at work and then another couple at home to triage the items on your list that are critical but can be done by someone else? E.g. the work holiday party has to be planned but not by you. G’s party has to be planned but not be you. I think if you can knock move some of these off your list you will feel a lot better.

    And now I’m thinking I need to get moving on my holiday planning…. 🙂

  • Reply Kristen M November 11, 2021 at 10:24 am

    I feel you on all the stress. We recently made some collective decisions in our department to say no we’re not doing a few things to free up more space for us in the end of the year and it was such a great weight off all of us! We’re a department of all women and really trying to lean into SAYING NO! We don’t have to do this! and it’s great.

    My daughter went to a park birthday party this past year where the mom literally just had a few boxes of snacks from Costco, cupcakes and the kids played on the playground. The newly minted 5 year old wore a crown and was in heaven! I think one (tiny one but I’ll take it) silver lining of COVID is extremely reduced kid birthday party expectations and I think that is a really good thing!

    • Reply Nicole Vinson November 11, 2021 at 11:47 am

      I second the park party with cupcakes and a crown. We attended a simple party like that here (St Pete, FL) and the kids are still talking about it because they could grab and go with the snacks and play.

  • Reply Brooke November 11, 2021 at 2:45 pm

    If you can’t punt the holiday party to someone else, could you punt to early next year? Amazon does their yearly party in 1Q. No reason it has to be tied to the holidays. Start a new tradition 🙂

    So much good advice above! I’ll just add that I think about the things I’ve got on my plate as balls I’m juggling. Some are glass and some are rubber. The glass balls will break if dropped, but the rubber ones will bounce. The key is to differentiating which is which. Interviews and abstract seem like glass. You can choose to punt your Hanukah celebration till after the holiday (seriously, Nov 28th?!) if that’s helpful.

    • Reply Elisabeth November 11, 2021 at 3:15 pm

      Brilliant analogy I’ve never heard of before. Glass vs. rubber. I LOVE thinking through things in this light. A new mental picture with which I can assess current anxieties. Is this a glass ball or a rubber ball? Genius.

    • Reply Amy November 11, 2021 at 3:33 pm

      That is SERIOUSLY a helpful analogy! Thank you!!

    • Reply KGC November 11, 2021 at 3:37 pm

      I second delaying the holiday party. We started doing this at work (my boss takes the whole lab out for dinner) and every. single. person. agrees that it is much less stressful to do in January. Or even February. Reservations are easier, people’s schedules aren’t as packed…it’s just better AND lets you take something off the to-do-by-year-end list. I suspect most people wouldn’t mind (and might prefer) delaying it!

    • Reply Emily November 12, 2021 at 6:21 am

      Another in support of the “post-holiday work party.” My last department did this in Jan/Feb and it was brilliant.

  • Reply Lucy November 11, 2021 at 3:36 pm

    As you are highly organized, maybe a bunch of these can be done months earlier next year. So that the work is spread out a bit more, especially gift shopping and party planning.

  • Reply Jenn N November 11, 2021 at 3:46 pm

    Holy smokes! It makes total sense that you are feeling panicky and anxious. Super understandable with everything going on. Sounds like a tough season.

  • Reply Sunny November 11, 2021 at 5:50 pm

    I relate so much, and I don’t have half as much going on. It feels validating to read someone else who feels the stress of all the “to dos” of during the holiday season. Lots of great suggestions in the comments especially waiting to make moving cards and having A help with addressing and stuffing envelopes. My daughter, 11, loves “designing” our holiday card in whatever photo product website we use and has for the past couple of years so maybe you can start outsourcing that to A too! It sounds like you need all the work hours you can get, but maybe in a future year you could schedule 1-2 days off when you order or wrap gifts and just check some stuff off while you listen to music or watch fun movies alone (idea from the Girl Next Door podcast that I do and it really helps my sanity.)

  • Reply Shelly November 11, 2021 at 6:53 pm

    Not sure if you want suggestions or just commiseration (you’ve got a lot on your plate!) but re cards I accidentally ended up sending Valentines cards last year instead of sending in December and it was kind of great. Minted and USPS way quicker, heart stamps always available (bc of weddings), my work is less busy, and it’s a novelty to get cute mail that time of year. I’m 50/50 whether I will do it again this year on purpose!

  • Reply Marcia Francois November 13, 2021 at 5:27 am

    I’m doing fewer and fewer things every holiday. I have zero f^$%&* to give about anything. I also have zero margin like you. BUT next year will be better. I finally have my two staff to take over most of my existing portfolio and when they’re fully trained, it’s going to be awesome to focus on only my own job, but until then…………………. (good luck to both of us)

  • Reply Marcia Francois November 13, 2021 at 5:34 am

    PS some helpful suggestions 🙂

    outsource everything (esp at work). I have a staff member who feels like he can delegate up to me. My standard response has been “great idea! pse let the team have feedback once you’ve implemented” – I don’t care if it doesn’t get done but I’m bouncing all the crap back down. But definitely parties, socials and such (yes, you are good at it but should you do it? No, if other people can do it.)

    Years ago when I wanted to get pregnant, I discovered a helpful phrase I use today too, “what are the things only I can do?” (it’s very little). Everyone else can plan a party, buy gifts, etc.

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