Tis the season to be jolly, but let's face it: winter holidays do not always make spirits bright. With calendars chock-a-block with eggnog-fuelled parties, volunteer commitments, shopping excursions and fancy dinners to prepare, it's no wonder many of us are inwardly groaning, "I won't get a break till the new year." Here are 10 ways to keep holiday stress at bay.
1. Set clear intentions by asking yourself, "What do I most need and desire over the holidays?" The answer may be relaxation, spiritual renewal, reconnecting with loved ones or being of service to people in need. "But it's not about doing all those things," said Renee Trudeau, a life coach based in Austin, Tex., and author of Nurturing the Soul of Your Family: 10 Ways to Reconnect and Find Peace in Everyday Life.
2. Reduce the pressure of creating a "perfect Christmas." Instead, Trudeau suggests, ask yourself what a "good enough" holiday would look like. For example, you can ask guests to contribute snacks to your New Year's Eve party and still be a great host.
3. Combat "Christmas amnesia" – the kind that makes you forget how overwhelmed you were last year – by keeping track of all the holiday tasks and activities you do. Document which activities gave the most joy or caused the most stress. Keep your list for next year and ditch any commitments that bring few rewards.
4. Consider alternating holiday traditions, such as making a gingerbread house one year and Christmas pudding the next, instead of trying to do all of them each year.
5. Reduce your Christmas gift list by reaching out to friends and family who have everything they need. Ask if they'd like to exchange simple cards or shared experienced (such as an outing) instead of normal gifts.
6. Book downtime for your family before filling your precious vacation days with everything else. While you may be bombarded with invitations, "it's really okay to say no," said Shyamala Kiru, a registered marriage and family therapist in Markham, Ont. For young kids especially, she said, "there's only so much they can take."
7. Schedule activities in nature, such as snowshoeing or tobogganing, to give your family a break from the holiday hubbub.
8. Make sure to exercise, even if it's a short skate with your family instead of a vigorous workout. "I'm a big believer in exercise to manage moods," Kiru said, adding that over the holidays, "it can be half of what you normally do."
9. Try to get enough sleep. For example, don't leave gift wrapping till the last minute if you know your kids will wake up early on Christmas morning.
10. Balance holiday indulgence with healthy habits. Managing your food and alcohol intake helps regulate moods, Kiru said. What's more, you won't face the stress of having to atone for weight gain and over-drinking in the new year.