De-stressing for the holidays

Don’t let stress ruin the fun by expecting too much from yourself—or others! It’s a celebration, not a performance!

It’s the holidays! A time to gather with family and friends and recreate our favorite holiday traditions.

Unfortunately, for many of us, one of those traditions is excess: We spend too much, eat too much, and try to do too much—to the point that much of the enjoyment is squeezed right out. The holidays become an endurance marathon of shopping, decorating, and socializing to the point of exhaustion.

Meanwhile, for others, the worst of this excess is the grief, isolation, and loneliness they feel—either because they’re without a cherished family member, or because they’ve never been able to relate to this seasonal madness.

Of course, we don’t have to celebrate the holidays this way. All the same, it can be difficult to resist the social pressure to conform. Here are my 12 tips for putting more joy into however you choose to honor this time of year:

#1. Give yourself permission to say no. It can be as easy as responding to an invitation with, “Thank you so much, but I’m already committed”—even if your commitment is to stay at home and put the kids to bed at their regular hour.

Remember, whenever you say “NO” to one thing, you’re preserving your opportunity to say “YES” to something else—including self-care.

#2. Listen to yourself, so you can pay attention to your needs. (This is really the key to minimizing stress in your life. After all, happiness resides within!) Whenever necessary:

Step back.
Catch your breath.

Ask, “What makes sense for me to do now?” (It’s only rarely to live up to others’ expectations.)

#3. Be imperfect (live longer)! The holidays are meant to be enjoyed, not endured. They’re not a competition—in gift-giving, holiday décor, or baking. It’s OK if your yard decorations don’t win the homeowners’ association holiday award, your holiday spread wouldn’t make the cover of Martha Stewart magazine, or your pies came from Costco not Grandma’s cherished recipe. Make the mental and emotional space to let the holidays unfold and carry you with them.

#4. Increase simplicity in your life. This is especially important when it comes to gift-giving. Here are some ideas for easing gift anxiety:

  • Draw names for gift-giving, rather than attempt to buy for everyone.
  • Set a dollar limit on gifts to be exchanged.
  • Agree to limit gifts to just the kids.
  • Upcycle or repurpose gifts—whether from your own closets or from flea markets, or thrift or vintage stores. Since many thrift stores are operated by charities, the dollars you spend there also benefit the charity.
  • Give gifts of food. They’re likely to be far less expensive than many gifts, whether they come from your own kitchen, or a specialty food store.
  • Consider giving everyone the same thoughtful, but affordable, gift—a candle, a scarf, a journal, or movie tickets.
  • Give gifts of time or services delivered later in the year: a meal made and delivered; a massage; a facial; a lawn mowed; a car washed; a patio swept.
  • Forgo gift-giving altogether in favor of a shared experience, or a donation to charity in the recipient’s honor, or a larger gift to charity chosen by the family together.

#5. Outsource. Where is it written that you have to do all the holiday preparations yourself? Get the kids or grandkids involved in holiday cooking and baking. Hire a handyman or even a neighborhood teen to put up lights, clean the house and prepare the party snacks. A friend of mine even hired a high school student to purchase teen-approved gifts for her nieces and nephews. Genius!

#6. Eat your water. It’s even more important to stay hydrated when we’re stressed.

#7. Move your body. Exercise helps relieve stress and release feel-good hormones. It also builds muscle, which retains water. And if you choose exercise you enjoy, it increases happiness.

#8. Get enough sleep. Let visions of sugar plums dance in your head! Sleep is your body’s repair and recover time. Give yourself lots of it!

#9. Limit splurges. It’s OK to over-indulge in food, or drink, or shopping—just not every day. Remember this guideline: It’s OK to eat anything you want, just not everything you want.

#10. Create new traditions that don’t require purchases but reflect the deeper meaning of the holidays: appreciating what’s most important in our lives and sharing the good we have with others.

#11. Count your blessings. Especially when you’re feeling harried, it’s helpful to remember all the good that is already in your life: the people you love; the food you’ve eaten; the warmth of your home, your shower, your bed; the holiday lights; the stars in the sky.

#12. Practice peace. Peace is not stressful; it is relaxed. Peace is flexible; it goes with the flow. It is forgiving—of others, and of oneself. Peace is compassionate, it allows you and others to make mistakes without judging. Peace is patient, trusting that everything will work out in the end.

Wishing you and yours a very healthy, happy holiday season!

If you’d like daily tips for managing your stress and lifting your spirit, download my free Murad Inspirations app, or pick up a copy of my book Creating a Healthy Life.

DISCLAIMER: The information provided on this site is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider, who should also be consulted with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.

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