While the season between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve is traditionally a time to celebrate and spend time with family and friends, for many of us it's a stressful six weeks as well.
Between trying to find the perfect gifts for your children, hosting your annual open house, writing holiday cards and stretching your budget, you're likely to feel more stressed than blessed.
Make this season a more relaxing and meaningful one with these holiday stress-reducing tips:
1. Get real. First, check your expectations. If you insist that your holiday celebrations bear a strong resemblance to "It's a Wonderful Life," you're setting yourself up for disappointment. Remember, real life doesn't resemble the movies-your cookies may be a little burned, your teenage son may not be thrilled with his cellular phone when he wanted a new car and your mother-in-law may criticize your decorations. Remember, some things are outside your control, so don't insist on perfection.
2. Prioritize your time. Is entertaining at home something you always look forward to? Do you relish the chance to spend more time with your family? Or do you like to have enough time to find just the right gift for everyone on your list? Decide early on what's most important to you-maybe you'd rather stay home to make popcorn balls with your kids than attend yet another neighborhood party.
3. Delegate tasks. The brunt of holiday responsibilities tends to fall on women's shoulders. But you don't have to do it all-delegate tasks where you can.
4. Plan ahead. You think you're done with your holiday shopping only to discover on Dec. 24 that you completely forgot about a present for your nephew. You can avoid this scenario by making a list of cards and gifts you need to buy. Once you have your list, start shopping-the earlier you begin, the sooner you'll be finished.
5. Make a budget. Credit cards seem like a great solution-until you receive the bills in January. Make a budget of what you'll spend this year and how much you plan to spend on each person. If you have a large family, suggest drawing names or having a holiday grab bag to cut down on the number of presents you have to buy.
6. Take time for yourself. Yes, you're busy. But if you neglect yourself, you're only going to feel more overwhelmed-and more likely to get sick or snap at your family and friends as a result. Take a few minutes to enjoy a latte or simply sit and watch the snow fall.
7. Hit the road - or the treadmill. During December, it's harder than usual to make time for a workout. But remember the powerful effect exercise can have on your mood-it reduces stress and anxiety and gives you an emotional lift when you most need it. Even a 20-minute daily walk will make a difference.
8. Check your plate. For nearly six weeks, we're tempted by smorgasbords of gooey sweets and other calorie-laden goodies at work, parties and family get-togethers. All that rich food can wreck your healthy eating plan and inflate your blood sugar. Follow your usual eating schedule as closely as you can, but allow yourself some room for your favorite treats so you don't feel deprived.
9. Make it meaningful. If the holidays seem like one big shopping trip, you may want to look for ways to make them more meaningful. That might mean adopting a needy family through a local charity or inviting someone to share Christmas dinner with you. Or volunteer at your children's school or favorite nonprofit organization.
10. Stay in the moment. The holidays can be one of the happiest times of the year-but you can't fully savor them unless you let yourself slow down. Too often we miss out on the everyday joys of the season because we're too concerned about what we need to do next. Focus on the present moment instead and you'll reap more joy and happiness.
Kelly James-Enger is a former lawyer, a mom of two and a freelance writer.
See more of Kelly's stories here.