There is always a LOT to appreciate this time of year. And, there is also a lot that can add to our stress levels: Shopping, parties, family time, holiday cards, shopping, wrapping, traveling, cooking, eating, shopping, credit card bills, decorating, oh and did I mention shopping?
They all add up to stress. At least they can if we let them.
Believe it or not, it’s quite possible to have a stress-free, joy-filled holiday season… at least in theory. It really just takes a little bit of awareness, a little bit of planning and a little bit of will power.
I don’t know about you… but I’d much prefer to wake up on January 1st feeling rested, relaxed and ready to get the New Year off to an amazing start… you know, rather than feeling like I’m recovering from a month of marathons!
So if you’re looking for some tools and tips and inspirations that will help you THRIVE… take a look at these 20 simple tips for staying relaxed, healthy and joyful throughout this holiday season.
Let’s start with the simplest idea… and maybe the most important… Breathing!
Now, I get it… you’re breathing all the time. You’re breathing right now, I hope. It’s not like you’re going to stop breathing while you’re out there doing your last minute marathon shopping spree. Well, you might actually. Not completely of course. But when we get stressed out our breathing gets faster, and shallower and we don’t get nearly as much oxygen as we need. So, when you find yourself stuck in traffic or waiting in the slowest checkout line (do you have that innate ability to always pick the slowest line too?) or looking at a maxed out credit card bill, take a moment to remember to breathe slowly and deeply and feel that extra oxygen working its relaxing magic on your body and mind.
2. Communicate early and often:
With all the added responsibilities and time drains during this season, communication with family, friends can take a hit. Have you ever had a conversation like this?
“What are you going to wear to the party tomorrow night?”
Or how about this one?
“Honey, do you remember what time Mike and Shannon are coming over tonight?”
Can you say stress?
Clear communication is always important, but especially during this busy time. What parties have you been invited to? What parties are you going to? What parties are you declining? How much will you spend on gifts for family members? (Another big stress point is when a couple’s gift spending is way out of balance. You know, he gets her an emerald necklace, she gets him another green necktie!)
Set up regular times to meet and talk about these issues. Set up a board for messages and notes. Set up a special holiday calendar noting parties, when guests are coming and travel plans.
3. Eat well (ish):
At this time of year, most of our positive eating habits get thrown out the window. I actually used to start a detox on January 2nd… just to make up for how badly I had eaten in the previous couple of months. That’s certainly one approach… eat whatever the hell you want in November and December and the detox all the crap out of your body in January! I’ve decided it’s actually easier (and probably better on my body) to practice moderation and mindfulness in my eating habits during the holidays and then really get things cleaned up again in the New Year.
Because, let’s face it, temptation is everywhere! Between the candy that started showing up in your office after Halloween and the Thanksgiving desserts to all the sweets you’ll find at your holiday parties, you’re likely to pack in a whole bunch of extra sugar, caffeine, alcohol and processed foods. All of these add to the stress on your body which, in turn, makes it more difficult for you to deal with any mental and emotional stress. So before you even leave the house make some firm commitments to yourself about what you are going to eat… and what you’re not going to eat. And then, stick to those commitments. You’ll feel a LOT better when you wake up in January… and you’ll have the added bonus of having boosted your willpower!
4. Shop early:
Depending on when you read this it may or may not be too late for this one. But there’s always next year! Of course, if you were planning to do your shopping on Christmas Eve, you may still get some benefit from this tip! Getting your shopping done early will save you a LOT of stress. From not having to deal with the insanity in the parking lots, to avoiding the fisticuffs that break out over who’s going to get the last (insert this year’s must have item), to avoiding the traffic jams around the malls your blood pressure will thank you if you get your shopping done early.
5. Shop locally:
On Friday evening, my daughter and I did some of our holiday shopping. Instead of driving to a mall, sitting in traffic, jockeying for a parking space and waiting in long lines, we drove into town, had dinner at a favorite local restaurant, wandered around the local shops, listened to some wonderful street performers playing holiday songs, picked up gifts for a few people and had a thoroughly enjoyable time. Shopping locally reduces your stress level and as an added bonus also supports your local shops… which is a really holidayish kind of thing to do!
6. Shop online:
As much as I love to support my local shops (and do so as much as possible) I’ll be the first to admit that online shopping is perhaps the ultimate anti-stress method for shopping. Books, electronics, CDs, games, you name it. It’s all available. Plus you don’t have to worry about bringing your packages to the post office. And many online shops will even wrap your gifts for you. Can you say, “Ahhhh?”
7. Consider Holiday E-Cards:
I know, I know. Who wants to get an E-card for the holidays? Consider the amount of time and money it saves you… and hey, there are some pretty fun E-cards available. And, let’s be honest, 6-months from now who will really remember that you sent them an E-card and didn’t take the time to send them a “real” card? Pretty much nobody. And if someone does remember… they probably wouldn’t have been happy with your “real” card either!
8. Schedule Self-Care Time:
If you think I’m nuts to suggest taking time to relax during this season, this tip is most definitely for you! It doesn’t have to be much: treat yourself to a 15-minute chair massage at the mall or market. Take a warm bath. Spend some time reading a mindless book. Close your eyes and meditate for a few minutes. Find time each day – even if it’s just 5-minutes – to unwind and bring yourself down from the fast pace of the world around you. Remember tip #1… If you only have time take a couple of nice deep breaths… do it!
9. Get enough sleep:
At this time of year, burning the candle at both ends becomes the norm for many people. And yet, this is the time of year when we need the MOST sleep (at least those of us up here in the Northern part of the world). When you are sleep deprived a lot of not so good stuff happens to your body and mind. The effects of stress become much more noticeable. You get grumpy which makes it less likely that you’re going to be able to deal with your mother-in-laws “stuff.” Your immune system gets compromised so you’re more likely to pick up that “bug” that’s going around. So during this holiday season, see if you can resist the temptation to stay up until after midnight wrapping presents in between checking your email.
Exercise is another one of those self-care things that tends to get pushed off to the side at this time of year. And no… running from store to store, brawling with other customers over the last whatchamcallit, and those 12-ounce curls while you’re watching the parade don’t count! Dancing at your office holiday party (if you really get down and funky) might count! Exercise is one of the best ways to release the stress. This is no time to indulge that inner couch potato. When you move your body the built up stress has a way to leave your body. And that’s good! So get to the gym or the yoga studio or the walking path. Hop on that stationary bike or put on your snowshoes and get outside. But whatever you do, move your body on a daily basis.
11. Set a holiday budget:
For a lot of people one of the most stressful aspects of the holiday season for many people is the spending. Between buying gifts, traveling, getting a tree and new decorations, the holiday season can be expensive. Without a a clear budget, it’s very easy to wake up to a bunch of big credit card bills in January… These will feel far worse than your hangover! So have a sit down with your family before the holidays (it’s not too late to do this now) and be honest about how much you want to spend, how much you can spend and how much you WILL spend. Feel free to tell your friends and family that you’ll be giving hand-made or inexpensive gifts this year. And it’s even ok to have a gift free holiday… or consider pooling all the money you would have spent on gifts for each other and making a collective donation to a charity… That would be the ultimate Anti-Scrooge thing to do!
12. Consider going to just one family gathering:
Let’s face it, family gatherings can be fun and festive and filled with joy and they can also be boring, emotional and filled with stress. Either way, one is often more than enough. When you add in marriage, divorce, remarriage, and divorced parents, there is the potential for Christmas Eve and Day to end up being a celebration of driving rather than a joyous time to connect with loved ones. And while it may be difficult to do… it will feel great to do it… Yup, tell one part of your family that you won’t be visiting them this year. They’ll get you next year for the holidays. Ahh… Can’t you already feel the relief?
13. Set clear boundaries at work:
Whether you work for a company or for yourself, it’s important to set clear guidelines boundaries. How late are you going to work? What days are you taking off ? Mark those times and dates in your calendar (USE BIG BOLD MARKERS!) and stick to it. If you’re taking off the week between Christmas and New Year, take it off, don’t “sort of” take it off. There’s nothing more stressful for you or your family than to feel pulled towards your computer when you’re supposed to be enjoying family time.
14. Manage your time wisely:
Managing your time well is always a good idea. During the rest of the year there’s often a bit of leeway and it’s possible to get by with less than pristine time management. If we waste 20-minutes driving to an out of the way store for something we don’t really need it’s not a big deal. This time of year, however, that wasted 20 minutes may mean the difference between getting in a walk before dinner or not. So be very aware of the preciousness of your time during this season.
15. Be willing to say “no:”
A lot of these tips come down to this: Are you willing to say “No?” How many holiday parties will you attend this year? How many events will you volunteer for? How many gifts will you get for people? How many holiday cards will you send? Remember it’s ok to say no. The urge to “do it all” and see everyone is strong. But it’s also stressful. Do yourself a favor: Say no to some things so that you can be fully present and enjoy the things and the people you say YES to!
This one’s a no-brainer. After all it is the season of joy… Show it! When you’re out shopping, smile at people you see. Give a big smile to the cashier – believe me, they will really appreciate it. And the best part is that your smile will actually make you feel better too. Try it!
17. Listen to Christmas songs (unless they really bug you!):
I’ve always enjoyed Christmas songs… which is a bit odd since I was raised in a Jewish home! Most Christmas songs have a positive message (which is NOT always true for the songs on the radio the rest of the year). So at this time of year, when I’m stuck in holiday traffic, I actually turn on the radio for some good holiday songs to sing along with. Now I admit that for some people listening to Christmas songs is akin to listening to a chorus of fingernails on chalkboards. If that’s you, permission granted to skip this one!
This is no time to put on your Lone Ranger mask! If you’re attempting to do all the shopping, cooking, cleaning, wrapping, decorating and shipping all by yourself, you’re pretty much screwed. If you’re in a relationship or part of a family unit, this is where that clear communication from #2 comes in. Delegate! Get assistance and support. Get clear on what you’re going to do, what your partner will do, and what the kids will do. Make it clear that if they don’t do the tasks assigned to them, they’re not going to get done!
If you’re not in a relationship, fear not, this is where friends come in handy. Do your shopping together, have a wrapping party, share cooking duties. You can combine your tasks to increase efficiency, or you can just do your stuff together to make it more fun. Either way, it’s far less stressful than doing it alone.
19. Be nice:
This takes #15 and personalizes it. After all, I can’t think of anything more stressful than watching two grown adults fighting over a toy or arguing about who is first in line. Well maybe being one of those adults fighting over the toy would be more stressful. At this time of year, a little niceness goes a long way. When you’re checking out, ask the cashier how she’s doing, and really be interested in her answer. Give the waiter an extra tip, even if he didn’t do such a great job. Let the other person have that parking spot, even if you saw it first. This is the “season of giving” so give a little niceness as one way to bring a little more joy to this season.
And last… but definitely not least…
20. Remember what this season is really about:
It’s so easy to get caught up in the commercialism of the holiday season. In the midst of all the presents and parties and shopping and eating… be sure to pause and remember what the holiday season is really about. Just about every Spiritual Tradition acknowledges this as a powerfully sacred time. Whatever your religious or spiritual beliefs may be, consider what this season means to you. Shopping and gift-giving and parties and merry-making are all great. But if that’s all there is, it’s easy for stress to seep into your life.
When you you connect with the deeper meaning of the holiday season – whether it’s joy, compassion, peace, generosity, faith, love, or anything else – you’ll discover a calmness that helps you move through this potentially stressful time with joy, presence (and presents!) and peace.
So enjoy this holiday season. And if any of these tips help you get through it with less stress, I would love to hear about it.
Leave a comment below. And feel free to leave your own tips for creating a stress free and joyful holiday season.