7 Ideas for a Less Stressful Holiday Season

A calm, peaceful, stress-free holiday season? Sure, why not! Read my latest blog on reducing stress during the holidays. We'd love to hear from you, so be sure to share your ideas!

Last year I wrote Stop the (Holiday) Madness with the focus on giving a gift to the environment by reducing waste. This year I am inspired to focus on giving a gift to ourselves by reducing stress. I'm already feeling the holiday energy in the air. Christmas decorations have been out for weeks now, shopping has already begun, and neighbors have begun to hang their holiday lights. Black Friday and Cyber Monday have come and gone. The holiday season is officially here!

This time of year can be both joyful and stressful. There is joy in the parties, holiday lights, caroling, gift opening, Santa sightings, family time, and more. But there is also stress in the crowded malls, family dynamics, obligatory gift giving, holiday card sending, travel, and more. This year how about vowing to actively make the joy outweigh the stress? Are you interested? Here are 7 ideas for a less stressful holiday season. 

1. Give less. Oftentimes we get into a routine of who we buy gifts for. Even if we are feeling like we want to cut back on our gift giving, we are afraid of hurting the other person's feelings—assuming that they want to exchange gifts. More often than not, the other person is feeling the same way. It doesn't hurt to ask. Just this week I brought up birthday gift exchange to a group of running friends. We get together every few months to celebrate birthdays. The gift giving has mushroomed where the recipients seem to be opening gifts for days. This is in addition to a very fun night out where we buy drinks and often dinner for the birthday girl(s). I sent an email this week just to see how people were feeling about the gift giving as we headed into a new year of celebrations. I asked them to respond with their preference from the choices below.

A. No more gifts. Our Girls Night Out celebration is the gift.
B. Keep the gifts! 
C. I'm indifferent.

Out of 10 women, all 10 voted for A. We were all feeling the same way, but no one wanted to say anything. For me, spending time with my friends really is the gift. I'm all about simplifying our lives where we can. Don't get me wrong—gift giving is great, but less so when it feels like an obligation and causes stress. I have a friend who has to buy holiday gifts for 44 people this year. That's insane! She texted and said "I just want to be done with my shopping to enjoy the holiday spirit in the air." Look at your list. Can you pare it down at all? Would your friends or family be up for drawing names and just buying for one person—saving everyone time and money? For the shopping you do have to do, you can make it less stressful by shopping online or buying gift cards, movie tickets, spa certificates, or vouchers for an activity with you.

Another idea is to create traditions that your family and friends look forward to over the holidays, reducing the importance of material items and increasing the importance of family time. Some of my favorite traditions are building ginger bread houses, cooking together, building puzzles, playing games, and driving through the neighborhood listening to holiday music, and seeing the holiday lights.

2. Send fewer cards. I used to send holiday cards but I don't anymore. I have to admit, I don't miss the extra "to-do" around the holidays. If you are going to send cards, think about just sending to those friends and family who are out-of-town that you do not see as often. I will often send a card to a handful of relatives I don't see often to let them know how I am doing. Another idea is to send electronic cards or post a holiday video to your friends on YouTube.

3. Ask for help. I have two friends that put up their trees and decorate the house all on their own and it's a lot of work. How about making a mini-party out of it and inviting a few friends over to help? Play some holiday music, serve up some eggnog, and have fun with it. Last year I helped a friend take down her Christmas tree and it was a great way to spend quality time together. Don't be afraid to ask for help. If you are hosting the holidays, ask others to bring side dishes to make it less stressful for you. Let your "guests" (your friends and family who want to help you) assist with clean up. Before you move on to the next idea, list one way you can ask for help this year.

4. Eat well, exercise, and sleep. It's tempting to go a little crazy from Thanksgiving through New Years with eating poorly, exercising less, and sleeping fewer hours. It's okay to indulge, certainly. I'm a big proponent of pleasure as a part of health. But you don't want to give yourself permission to go hog wild for the month because you won't feel good during or after. Enjoy the goodies, just watch your portion size. Try to keep getting out for some exercise. Make exercise dates if you have to. I'm a great motivator to my friends in the warmer months to join me for exercise but as it turns colder, I often need a nudge. Making exercise plans with friends gets me out the door. And don't sacrifice sleep! Lack of sleep can make you cranky and make the holidays all the more stressful. (If you do overindulge and feel like you need to detoxify from the holidays, our next detox session begins January 7. You do not have to be local to participate as the sessions are done over the phone. Sign up today!).

5. Be grateful. Whatever stress you are feeling, turn it into a gratitude. For example:

  • I'm stressed I have to buy so many gifts. → I'm grateful I have the money to do so and the people in my life to buy for.
  • I'm stressed I have to travel during the holidays. → I'm grateful I have friends and family to celebrate with.
  • I'm stressed (depressed) because I miss my departed loved ones during this time. → I'm grateful for my memories and that they were a part of my life. (Perhaps there is a way you can honor them by talking about the favorite holiday gift they gave you, your favorite holiday memory with them, or their favorite holiday tradition).

Is there a stress → gratitude that you came up with? If so, share it in the comment section below.

6. Take a time out. If you are feeling overwhelmed or stressed, take a time out—even if it is just for a few minutes. If you are shopping frantically at the mall and are wearing yourself down, stop and just sit somewhere. Watch the other shoppers, appreciate the festiveness of the mall, and just quiet your mind. After your break, go back at it! Whether you are at the mall or not, take a time out and just be still for a few minutes (and try idea #5 during your time out). Also, remember to breathe. Breathing really can help you move from a stress response in your body to calm. Even just five deep breaths can help.

7. Let go of perfection. Your house doesn't need to be perfectly clean, the meal doesn't need to be gourmet, the gifts don't need to be professionally wrapped. With love behind the hosting, cooking, and gift giving—perfection doesn't matter.

Are you already feeling stressed for the holiday season? If so, what things are the most stressful for you? We want to hear from you. Share your comments in the section below. For those of you who have made changes from years past to reduce stress around this time, share your ideas with us below. What has helped you to have a less stressful holiday season?

I wish you all a happy, calm, joyful, fun, relaxing holiday season! If you need help during this time to manage your stress, I am available for consultations.

Dina Colman, MA, MBA, is a healthy living coach and writer. She has her Master’s degree in Holistic Health Education from John F. Kennedy University and her MBA from Kellogg at Northwestern University. She founded Four Quadrant Living—a simpler, natural, more fun way to a healthier, happier, and energetic life. Four Quadrant Living provides information and motivation for healthy living through nourishment of the four quadrants of our lives—Mind, Body, Relationships, and Environment. Dina has a private practice, working with clients to help them create health in their lives by eating well, finding the fun in exercise, reducing stress, managing relationships, and creating a healthy environment. Dina's book, "You Are Not Your DNA: 48 Simple and Natural Ways to Create Your New Health Destiny" will be published in 2013. Contact Dina at dina@fourquadrantliving.com

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Jojo Potato November 29, 2012 at 01:04 AM
#0: Leave town. No matter where you go, you won't be able to pack all those presents so that's covered. If you only go with the people you really like that covers that problem too. This could be as simple as staying at one of the classic old time lodges in the Sierra, like Dorrington or the Shangri-La cabins in Downieville or as expensive as you name it. Even go to Hawaii, you'll find lots of your suddenly friendly neighbors and no dishes to wash after dinner.


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