12-ways-to-handle-stressWhew! The holidays can be a whirlwind of fun, festive activities. However, shopping, parties, baking, cleaning, choosing the right gift, and entertaining can also amplify stress. If not addressed, stress can hurt your health and seriously sideline your holiday plans.

With these twelve practical tips, you can decrease and cope with the inevitable stress of the holidays.

  1. Be flexible (and realistic). Your family is growing and changing and traditions often change as well. The holidays don’t have to be just like last year (which, let’s be honest, probably weren’t completely perfect anyway). Find new ways to celebrate together, even if that means sharing videos and photos if you can’t be together.
  2. Acknowledge your feelings. If you’re not feeling festive cheer, don’t force yourself to feel cheerful. It’s natural to feel sadness and grief, especially if you can’t be with loved ones or there’s a conflict. Take time to cry or share your feelings to someone you trust.
  3. Reach out. If you feel lonely, seek out community, religious or other social events. Websites such as the NWA’s event hub, list many offerings for you to find a social or volunteer activity.
  4. Lay aside differences. Even if friends and family don’t live up to all of your expectations, accept them as they are. Set aside grievances and wait for a more appropriate time for discussion.
  5. Practice gratitude. Neuroscientists have discovered that people can’t have both fear and gratitude in their minds at the same time.  Call a loved one and tell them how much you appreciate them. Perhaps spend a few minutes writing down things for which you’re thankful.
  6. Stick to a budget. Before you go gift and food shopping, make a budget. It can be a simple list where you decide how much money you want to spend and where. Avoid the temptation to assuage guilt or buy happiness with a deluge of gifts. Instead, consider donating to a charity in honor of someone or creating a family gift exchange.
  7. Plan ahead.  Plan your menus, make a shopping list, and keep it with you! Stock up on pantry staples so you don’t need to run to the store to snag forgotten ingredients. And definitely ask for help for party prep and cleanup.
  8. It’s okay to say no. Accepting an invitation or request to help when you wanted to say no can leave you feeling exhausted, not to mention resentful. Consider accepting only the invitations you know will leave you feeling satisfied rather than empty and tired. If you do feel pressured into saying yes, remove something else from your schedule.
  9. Keep up healthy habits. Before holiday parties, grab a healthy snack, like a handful of nuts or peanut butter and crackers, so that you’re not tempted by sweets, cheese or drinks. And make sure to move! Take a walk to enjoy the lights or dance to your favorite holiday music.
  10. Take a breather.  Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, can rejuvenate you. Focus on your breath to enjoy mindfulness or read a good book
  11. Seek professional help. If you find yourself feeling continually sad or anxious for weeks, have trouble sleeping, feel hopeless and are unable to face routines, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.
  12. Take a whiff of citrus or evergreen. Researchers have found that smelling certain fragrances reduce stress. Dab a little pine, lemon, or orange essential oil on your wrist or a handkerchief and keep it in your pocket.