For many, the holidays offer an opportunity to celebrate who you are, the people you love, and the values you cherish. But as the holiday season approaches, many people experience conflicting emotions. During what is traditionally a joyous time of year, many of us take on additional tasks and try to squeeze an ambitious number of events into already tight schedules.

You might find yourself trying to do the impossible in a short amount of time, on a limited budget, with conflicting demands pulling you in different directions. Stress is a big part of the holidays for many people but it doesn't have to be overwhelming if you keep a few things in mind.

Avoiding holiday overload

  • Set realistic expectations. Many of us set unrealistic expectations for ourselves during the holidays. We simply try to do too much. Ask yourself what you want the holidays to be or to mean. What is the most important part of the holidays for you? If sharing time with family is most important, why not spend a day sledding with your children and less time shopping for presents? If you are planning to serve a meal to several family members, why not say "yes" when others ask if they can bring something? Or take responsibility for the main course and ask your guests to contribute the rest.
  • Prioritize. Make a list of all the things you need to do and decide which ones are the most important. Do the important things and get to the rest if you have time. You may not be able to get to everything on the list, but if you get the important things out of the way the rest probably won't matter.
  • Just say "no." If you have a tendency to take on too much, learn to say "no" when people ask you to do just one more thing. Or find a few shortcuts if you can't resist saying "yes." For example, you don't have to make all the cookies for the PTA party from scratch -- buy the cookie dough that comes in the tubes and bake it. Chances are, nobody will even notice.
  • Set a budget and stick to it. Plan for an increase in holiday spending for things like meals, gifts, and entertainment. Know how much you can spend before you go shopping or before you decide how many people to invite for a holiday meal. This will keep you from spending more than you should.


Finding joy in the holidays

  • Start new traditions. Remember the meaning behind your traditions. It's easy to let a tradition take on a life of its own and to forget what made it important in the first place. Ask yourself which traditions of your holiday season are adding joy and meaning to the season for you and your family, and which have become obligations that take from you but don't give back. Don't be afraid to start new traditions if your family has outgrown old ones. Families young and old thrive on traditions that bring them together, even simple ones like baking or taking a walk in the evening.
  • Set differences aside. Sometimes the holidays throw family members together who, at other times of the year, are happier apart. As you gather together with family and friends, try to enjoy the feeling of togetherness and save potentially heated discussions for another time. And remember, you can decide with whom you'll spend the holidays. True "holiday spirit" is about getting along with people to the best of your ability, not about putting yourself in anxious or loaded situations.
  • Be a kid again. Take some time out of the holiday season to play and just enjoy the scenery. Notice the pretty lights and the yummy smells. Take a nature walk, go skating, try some deep breathing exercises, whatever helps you relax for a while.
  • Get plenty of rest and exercise. It's easy to forget to do the things that keep you healthy when you have so much to do. Keeping to your regular sleep and exercise routines will give you the energy you need to do everything and keep some normalcy in your life.
  • Empathize. Remember that other people are also dealing with the stress and pressures of the holidays. All those cars in the traffic jam at the mall are full of people just like you, trying to get everything done to make their celebrations run smoothly. Don't take the lack of parking spaces personally.


Asking for the help you need and giving help to others

  • Get emotional support. If you're missing loved ones who have passed away or relatives who can't be there to celebrate in person, make sure you reach out to friends or family who can give you the emotional support you need. If your friends and family can't give that support, contact your employee resource program or a professional counsellor in your community for help.
  • Give help to others. Consider volunteering as a new tradition this holiday season. You'll find opportunities at shelters, immigrant centers, hospitals, and nursing homes, or through organizations that promote literacy, work to improve schools, or provide housing, meals, and clothes to those in need. Whether you volunteer yourself or as a family, giving to your community can be the most rewarding of holiday traditions.



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