Nail technician Kandice Astamendi knows stress. She spent last spring building her client list after moving to a new salon, House of Arnol, in Glendale, Calif. Just as she was settling into the new routine, she began planning her September wedding And now, with the rice barely brushed from her hair, she’s gearing up for the season all nail technicians prepare for with hope and dread — the holidays.

“I learned some things spending all summer reading bridal magazines,” she says with a laugh. “Did you know that New Years Eve is the biggest day of the year for weddings? And all the brides want their nails done the day before. Of course, that’s already the busiest day of the year for nail technicians.”

The December crush of office parties, weddings, and holiday bashes can be the most lucrative time of the year, according to the technicians we talked with. It can also be the most stressful. “We have no life during the holidays!” says Deby Walters, owner of A Love of Nails in Frederick, Md. “I have a two-month-old baby, and I’m already trying to figure out how I’m going to be able to see Santa.”

What causes holiday stress for nail technicians? And what can you do to ease the pressure?

Oh, My Aching Appointment Book!

“Last-minute holiday bookings are really a problem,” says Astamendi. Walters agrees: “I tell my clients to start booking in September for a December appointment.” New nail technicians really can’t imagine how busy they will be during December, she explains. “One of my technicians told me she was going home to Michigan during the week before Christmas I just looked at her like she was on drugs!”

When the crunch hits, many nail technicians say they begin to neglect then own beauty routines, which adds to their holiday stress “I get so busy, then all of a sudden I look at my own hands and think. ‘Oh my god, look at this! I can’t wait to fix this mess,’” says Walters “I think a nail technician who doesn’t have her own nails done is hypocritical.”

But many technicians say it’s nearly impossible to find time to change their own polish when the phones are ringing with unscheduled clients who “just want a quick fill before a party tonight.” When it comes to doing her own nails, “You can compare me to the shoemaker whose kids run around barefoot,” says Diana Brians, co-owner of D’jon’s in Dixon, Calif.

“It’s so hard to find the time. Plus, when you work with polish removers and solvents all day, it’s hard on your nails.”

Add holiday shopping, school pageants, and family obligations to the mix, and you’ve got a perfect recipe for stress. Fortunately, experts agree, there are many techniques to help you ease the stress and enjoy the season while your clients happily show off your handiwork at their holiday parties. Knowing how you handle stress is the first step in learning how to sail through the holidays.

What’s Your Stress Personality?

“Everyone has different ways of generating — and controlling — stress,” says Richard Earle, Ph.D., director of the Canadian Institute of Stress. Earle and his colleagues have identified several different stress types. Do you see yourself here?

Basket cases. It’s 2 p.m., you’ve got five more clients lined up back-to-back, and you’ve got to have a candy bar or you’ll fall face first into your client’s wet polish. Sound familiar? Even if it feels like you can’t fit one more thing into your day, you need to make time for exercising and eating right, says Earle. “Basket cases must eat a breakfast in which 25% of the calories come from protein. This will keep their blood sugar level — and hence their energy — high,” he says.

To help beat those afternoon blahs, try exercising for a half- hour in the morning or early evening. “Yoga is a good start,” Earle says, “because basket cases often have a lot of muscle tension and pain.” It also helps to take time for massages, adds Walters. “Nail technicians get a lot of tension in the neck and shoulders,” she says. “I spend days at the chiropractor after Christmas.” This year she vows to spend more time taking breaks and getting neck and shoulder massages to help prevent stress and fatigue.

Speed freaks. Also known as Type A personalities, speed freaks give every activity 100% of their energy, including tasks that aren’t very important. As a result, they spend too much time doing things that don’t give them any satisfaction “Speed freaks need to set realistic goals,” says Earle.

If you think you’re a speed freak, decide what you want to accomplish during the holiday period, whether it’s increasing your client list by 20%, hosting a lavish holiday party, or learning some new holiday nail art techniques. Then direct your energy to achieving what matters most to you. It’s often helpful to sit down and write out a list of goals, Earle suggests. Then you can budget your time to help meet those goals.

Walters finds it lucrative to focus her energy on creating nail art during the holidays. “About 85% of my work during the holidays is design work,” she says. “Clients who balk at spending an additional $2 the rest of the year will spend $50 for a special design for an office party.”

Worry warts. Do you find yourself staying awake all night fretting about ringing phones and your overbooked schedule? It’s time to channel that nervous energy into something positive, says Earle. “We have worry waits write down a problem they’re facing and all the different options they have for solving it. Then they rate these options and implement the one that has the best chance of working.”

Such advance planning has helped Astamendi come up with a solution to her holiday scheduling problems, she says. “I plan to hire an assistant to help with changing polish, applying primer, and preparing pedicures.” It’s important to hire the assistant before the holiday crunch begins, she adds, so the new person will have time to learn the ropes and become familiar with clients.

Heading Off Stress

Even better than knowing how to deal with stress is not letting it build up in the first place, says Seymour Diamond, M.D., executive director of the National Headache Foundation and director of the Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago, III. Sometimes it’s the little things that can help get you through an especially busy time, he says. “Get up 15 minutes earlier in the morning. The inevitable morning mishaps will be less stressful.”

And decide right now to get rid of avoidable stress. Don’t risk getting locked out of the car while hurrying from the salon to the grocery store to the third grade holiday party. “Make duplicates of all keys,” suggests Diamond. “Bury a house key in a secret spot in the garden. Carry a duplicate car key in your wallet, apart from your key ring.”

Brians has found a unique way to head off holiday stress — she does much of her Christmas shopping after Christmas. “Our Christmas morning centres more around eating and enjoying each other’s company,” she says. “Of course, if you have little ones, it’s more difficult,” she admits, noting that most parents of very young children can’t resist the urge to become part of the throng at the toy stores. But with older kids, “I tell them we’ll go shopping at the after-Christmas sales.”

Don’t Forget The Fun

While you’re busy painting clients’ nails for the holidays, trying to find the perfect wool sweater for your sister, and helping the kids make sugar cookies, stop and think for a minute — what have you done for fun lately?

“Integrate fun into your day,” suggests Vicki Scrimger, a marriage, family, and child counselor in Torrance, Calif. See a matinee (make it a comedy!), go for a walk and look at the holiday decorations, take time for yourself. “Get your slice of fun,” Scrimger says. “Say to yourself, ‘Nothing can ruin my day today.’”

Taking care of yourself helps lift your spirits and your energy level during the holidays, says Astamendi. “I try to get one facial a month,” she says Astamendi also tries to make time for an occasional massage and she attends motivational seminars to help her stay open to new ideas for herself and her business.

Astamendi suggests creating a festive atmosphere in the salon to add a relaxing holiday mood both you and your clients can enjoy “I keep a candy jar on my desk, and I always have a supply of wine for the evenings,” she says. She also offers a “holiday shopper's pedicure special” for weary mall shoppers. “Clients buy the pedicures in bulk and they save $5. It’s a great way to relax and it’s very popular during the holidays,” she says.

Brians agrees that food plays a big part in giving the salon a holiday atmosphere. “We serve hot hors d’oeuvres and hot cider. We also serve wine — but not in the morning!” she laughs. “And I always have cookies at my desk.”

But what about the atmosphere at home? Is it possible to plan a holiday party for family and friends and still keep your sanity? Walters suggests going ahead with your part) plans — just don’t plan your party for December “Have a party in late November to kick off the holidays, or have a New Year’s party in early January,” she suggests. That way you’ll have the time and energy to enjoy your guests.

Debi Duemig, owner of Nails at Last in Brandon, Fla., goes one step further with her pre-holiday party — she invites all her employees and all her clients plus their husbands. “Last year we had a party for 300 people the first weekend after Thanksgiving. We held it at a country club, and we had all kinds of different people there,” she says. “Holding it in November helps me because it takes a lot of planning and it would just be too stressful to do that in December. Plus it gets clients in the mood to book their appointments before their other parties.”

Stop and Smell the Mistletoe

One of our biggest complaints about the holidays is that we hurry around only to discover that the season has come and gone without the chance to enjoy it. No matter how busy you are, one of the best ways to control holiday stress is to take just a few moments each day to celebrate the rituals of the season, says Scrimger. “No amount of work can ever replace these important milestones in life,” she says. “Once they are missed they are gone forever.”

So take a picture of yourself with Santa and put it at your work-table. Paint a holly design with rhinestone berries on your little finger. Put some holiday music on the stereo at home and dance with your sweetie. (What the heck, put some music on in the salon and take a 10-minute “dance break” with your coworkers!) And don’t be afraid to tell your family you need a little extra help during the holidays. “I rely on my family,” says Brians. “When things get crazy at work, they give me really good support. They realize it’s a busy time.”


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