Present-shopping. Gift-wrapping. Cookie-baking. Elf on the Shelf–moving. Picture-snapping. House-cleaning. Travel-scheduling. Card-sending. Volunteering. Family peace-making. Party-planning. Party-hopping. Not sleeping.
The holidays have a way of heaping even more must-dos atop parents’ already hectic schedules. Here are a dozen ways to calm holiday stress, one for each day of the “most wonderful time of the year.”
- Make a “Not-to-Do List.” Consciously leave a few activities off your December agenda. Women’s life coach Elle Griffin says this is one of her favorite ways to reduce holiday stress: “It makes women realize how much of what they do doesn’t have an effect on the big picture of their lives.”
- End a tradition. For your health’s sake, let go of rituals that are more work than fun or are no longer meaningful. According to the American Psychological Association, chronic stress can weaken your immune system, making it harder to recover from illness and leading to increased risk of heart disease, overeating and depression.
- Catch your zzz’s. People cope better with stress when they’re well rested, so strive for seven to eight hours of sleep per night. “Poor sleep habits keep you jittery, irritable and feeling like you’re dragging,” says Rosalie Moscoe, author of Frazzled Hurried Woman! Your Stress Relief Guide to Thriving . . . Not Merely Surviving.
- Streamline shopping. When possible, buy gifts whenever you are already out running day-to-day errands. Make shipping a breeze by purchasing online gifts early in the month.
- Take five. Go through your calendar and block out 15 to 30 minutes each day to do some- thing just for your personal enjoyment — think a manicure, lunch with a friend, a yoga session. “By pursuing pleasure a woman can not only enjoy a more fulfill- ing life but in the process increase production of oxytocin, a hormone crucial to lowering stress,” Griffin says.
- Clean as a team. Seasonal decorations demand lots of uncluttered space, so make cleaning a family priority. Kids should hang up their coats, file school papers in their desks (not on the kitchen table) and keep common rooms detritus-free. If you’re hosting a holiday shindig and can swing the expense, bring in a housecleaner for pre- and/or post-party cleanup.
- Entertain efficiently. Host a light-hearted appetizer party instead of a serious dinner soiree. Choose menu items that can be prepared ahead of time or have the event catered so you’ve got more time to visit. For casual get-togethers, prepare only the main dish and ask guests to bring appetizers, sides and dessert.
- Revel in the moment. Duck away from the buzzing fluorescent lights and long lines to take in the holiday lights, street scenes and crisp December air during an evening stroll. Allow the movement to calm your mind without further stressing your body.
- Feed yourself right. Hunger and exhaustion are a bad mix. Eat wholesome, good-mood foods with protein for energy. Don’t bring extra cookies or chocolate into the house in advance of the holidays, upping the temptation to overeat. “This will make you cranky, tired and cause fluctuations in blood sugar,” says Moscoe.
- Plan for surprises. Worried about being caught without a present for a last-minute gift exchange? While running errands, purchase small gifts you can stash. Keep coffee (flavored and decaf included), tea, cheese and crackers on hand for drop-in guests.
- Simplify décor. Minimize the time and cost you spend decking the halls with modest but meaningful homemade decorations. Make luminarias with your kids: Draw a star or tree on a lunch-sized paper bag. Punch holes along the lines of the design and fill the bag with sand. Stand the bags along your driveway or door path and illuminate them with battery-charged tea lights.
- Personalize the magic. Discuss what makes the holidays special with your kids. Their answers may surprise you. Perhaps they’d like to try building gingerbread houses or want to spend a toasty evening in their PJs drinking hot chocolate and watching holiday specials. Even one small change can make the difference between anx- iously counting the days until the holiday show is over to living in the moment and celebrating more peace and joy with your family.
Freelance journalist Christa Melnyk Hines is the author of Confidently Connected: A Mom’s Guide to a Satisfying Social Life.