7 Ways to Manage Stress and Keep the “Happy” in Your Holidays

The holiday season is upon us, and so is the traditional list of “to dos” that creates stress even before the first Salvation Army Santa rings his bell or the first Chanukah candle is lit.

Paired with the joy of the season is the inevitable anxiety of getting it all done: the greeting cards, decorating, cookie exchanges, office grab-bags, teachers’ gifts, winter travel, and so on. And yet, each year we fret about how we’re going to do it all.

Why?

According to Dr. Howard Weissman, clinical director at the Chicago Stress Relief Center, Inc. in Northbrook, “The holidays are always full of expectations of cheer and a sense of responsibility for creating an idyllic season that doesn’t always align with people’s reality.”

Add that to life’s usual stressors—finances, family, health—and you create a recipe for disappointment. “Multiple factors can get in the way” of our holiday enjoyment, Weissman says.

Aside from getting enough sleep, eating right and exercising, Weissman advises: “Ground yourself. Nobody can do it all. Being a good wife, mom, friend or person doesn’t mean you have to do everything yourself.”

Want to keep your sanity this year?

With so much you have to do, like keeping up with household chores and getting to work on time, plus all of the special things you’d like to do during the holiday season (building a snowman with the kids, meeting friends for gift exchanges), the urge to want to do it all can be strong. Laura Ashman, a professional home/life organizer ( [email protected]) says it’s best to resist that urge.

“Be realistic with yourself and your time,” Ashman says.

Here are some easy ways you can get and stay in the spirit of the season:

1. Get real: Align your expectations for holiday festivities with your reality. Ashman’s top recommendation is to take time to categorically make lists of things that you need to do. The more organized and specific you can be, the better. This will also help you delegate tasks to people who offer to help.

2. Let it go: Holiday cards still need to be printed and addressed? Send them after the New Year or at Valentine’s Day. Order food for parties. Sunset Foods or Foodstuffs will put together trays that can be delivered or picked up. Frank and Betsie’s in Glencoe takes dessert orders, too. Buy, don’t bake, sugar cookies and then decorate them at home.

3. Control the clutter: Ashman suggests designating an area in your home that will be your “holiday central.” Keep recipes, lists, giftwrap and other holiday items in one place that you don’t have to clean up daily.

4. Simplify: Obvious, but so hard to do. The practitioners at Whole Health Chicago recommend “minimal decorations, less travel, fewer gifts, less elaborate meals.”

5. Tune into the holidays: Listening to Burl Ives sing “Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas” makes it hard to feel like a Grinch. In the car, holiday tunes will be playing on 93.9 FM all season long. On your computer, dial into CBS’ offerings for a range of classic, jazz or country holiday hits.

6. Breathe in, breathe out: Remember Lamaze breathing? Or Ujjayi breathing from yoga class? Do it when you’re feeling frazzled. Whether you’re in your car, in the shower or waiting in a checkout line, breathe in for two counts, breathe out for four. Repeat. Relax.

7. Remember what it’s all about: Be with the people you most like and love. Celebrate them, make some memories, drink hot chocolate and, if all else fails, keep this in mind: You have 365 days to get ready for next year!