10 Ways to Stay Calm Amid the Holiday Chaos

Finding more “misery” than “merry” in your holiday plans? Maybe it’s time for a new tradition of tranquillity.

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Fight Holiday Stress, woman and Christmas tree

How to fight holiday stress? Let go of festive fairy tales

Many of us have images in our minds of what the ideal holiday should look like, whether it comes from Christmas movies or childhood memories. But according to Shelley Behr, an individual and family therapist and a registered clinical social worker in Richmond, B.C., there’s no such thing as a perfect holiday. Family conflicts, lost loved ones or even unexpected changes in plans can shatter those fantasies. Let go of what you think should happen and be realistic — you can find special moments even when things don’t go as hoped. Check out these feng shui tricks to help beat holiday stress.

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Fight Holiday Stress, woman sitting at window

Set intentions

When you ask people what they love about the holidays, it’s often the simple things — enjoying a meal with loved ones or sitting by the fire with a significant other — yet we tend to spend more of the season fulfilling obligations than enjoying those little pleasures. Before the Christmas chaos starts, Brooke McAlary, author of Slow: Simple Living for a Frantic World, suggests sitting down and thinking about what you want to do so you can spend your time accordingly. “Just figuring out what it is that you love about that time of year and putting that at the centre of your plans is a really great way to find perspective.” Here are ways to keep your spirits up during the holidays.

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Fight Holiday Stress, woman making a list

Slow down your schedule

’Tis the season for over-scheduling, so before the busyness begins, Behr recommends writing down all the activities that you need to do and planning out when you’re going to do them. This can help you ensure that you don’t take on more than you can handle and help you feel present in the activities that you do. And if commitments come up that don’t fit with the priorities you’ve set for your holiday, feel free to say no, says McAlary. “It’s a matter of understanding that when we say yes to things, like social engagements, it means having to say no to other things. We don’t have the capacity, time and energy to do everything.” Here are tips to help you declutter your home before the holidays hit.

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Fight Holiday Stress, bath tub

Plan for me time

As you’re planning your schedule, Behr suggests scheduling in a bit of me time every day. “Take some time out for yourself so you’re not constantly trying to catch up, and you can feel like you’re in charge of your life,” she says. These acts of self-care could just be taking a bath, going for a walk or making yourself a nice meal — “whatever it is that will give you peace of mind.” Don't miss these affordable ways to practice self-care.

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Fight Holiday Stress, friends having dinner

Ask for help

When you’re hosting parties, don’t feel like you need to do it all alone, says McAlary. “My family has instituted over the years that everyone brings a dish to Christmas dinner, and that alleviates the stress of feeling like you need to prepare food for 20 people,” she says. Ask everyone to bring a dish (like this make-ahead Sweet and Sour Braised Cabbage side) or, if they're not much of a cook, another contribution, like a centrepiece for the table.

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Fight Holiday Stress, turkey

Prepare, then don’t care

When planning meals, aim to prepare dishes that can be left alone in the oven or slow cooker just before dinner rather than ones that need to be watched up until the last minute. That way, once guests arrive, you can actually spend time with them. And once guests have arrived, don’t worry about cleaning or putting on the finishing touches. “So often, you’ll find us in the kitchen trying so hard to prepare everything that we don’t actually enjoy the party,” says McAlary. “Then you get to the end of it and everyone’s gone home and you feel deflated instead of fulfilled. If we just let go of that need to have everything completely perfect, we enjoy ourselves more. And other people do, too.” Don't miss the secret for eating healthy during the holidays.

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Fight Holiday Stress, mother and daughter opening presents

Stop and record memories

The best memories, says McAlary, come from moments where we allow ourselves to be completely present. “Even if they only last a minute, they’re the ones that seem to stick, ” she says. “We don’t tend to remember the beautifully decorated table or the perfect meal, but we remember how we felt at the time.” Since some of us need a reminder to be present, McAlary recommends setting an alert on your phone that tells you to look around and immerse yourself in what’s happening. “Perhaps it’s just sitting back and looking at the way your cousins are playing together, or the way your grandparents are sitting together,” she says. “Whatever it may be, really pay attention to those things.” Are holiday expectations still stressing you out? Here's what to do.

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Fight Holiday Stress, presents

Make gifts meaningful

There’s nothing more stressful than doing laps around a crowded mall trying to find the perfect gift, except for seeing your credit card bill once the shopping is done. “Finding gifts for people takes a lot of time, and often we buy things simply for the sake of buying them, not because people need them or want them,” says McAlary. She suggests drawing names so you can buy just one gift among family members or a group of friends. (Or check out our unique and totally affordable gift guide for everyone on your list!) And when you do buy something, consider an experiential gift rather than a physical gift that may end up collecting dust. “I saw a really beautiful example of this with a grandma who got 12 envelopes,” she says. “ In each envelope she put an experience, like tickets to the zoo or a picnic at the park. Every month, the kids open up an envelope and get to do this experience with their grandma.” Focusing on experiences ensures that the gift creates lasting memories.

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Fight Holiday Stress meditation

Give yourself the gift of relaxation

When you’re feeling overloaded, Behr recommends trying relaxation exercises, such as deep breathing or meditation. (Find out what it's really like to meditate in a salt cave.) Progressive muscle relaxation is also a great tool to help you let go of the stresses of the day. Starting at your feet, tense your muscles for five seconds, then release. Then work your way up the body, tensing and releasing every muscle. “You may find some areas of your body that you’re not really aware are tense,” says Behr. “Just being able to release [those muscles] is a good way of letting go of some of the pressure that’s been stored there.”

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Fight Holiday Stress

Extend the love to the new year

When your December is filling up with get-togethers and to-dos, start pushing some of those holiday catch-ups to January, suggests McAlary. Giving yourself permission to delay some social engagements until the new year will take some of the stress out of your schedule and keep the festive season going a little longer.

Next, check out the sneaky way you're sabotaging your own New Year's resolutions.

Originally Published in Best Health Canada