The most magical time of the year is upon us. Twinkling lights have appeared, carols play on the radio and images of Santa and his reindeer surround us. But with this overflow of warm cheer comes frenzied, frantic holiday insanity. You risk life and limb simply walking from the parking lot into the stores. Everyone is in a distracted hurry. Family members have reduced communications to curt texts and emails. There seems to be no time for visits and real communications.
When everyone around you seems to be losing their minds, remember that you don’t have to join them. Arm yourself with these coping strategies and stress relievers, and you can save your sanity this holiday season.
1. Cut the To-Do List
A big part of staying sane during the holiday season is managing expectations. This year’s Christmas miracle is not going to be that you turned into Martha Steward overnight, so forget a decorated tree in every room, perfectly personal gifts for every friend and family member and a meal worthy of Michelin stars.
Instead of a never-ending to-do list, consider asking your friends do a secret Santa, so only one gift is needed. Also, talk to your family about what dishes they love to eat, and discard the non-essentials.
Cutting your to-do list is a great way to make sure you’re being realistic and kind to yourself.
2. Count Sheep
A common mistake we make during these busy times is to skimp on sleep. It’s a mistake, because we need sleep for our bodies to recharge. In fact, people who don’t get enough sleep are five times more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression.
Beyond feeling rested and looking better, you can suffer serious health consequences from lack of sleep. Start to wind down in plenty of time to get the recommended 8 hours.
The constant noise in our lives — from Christmas music to buzzing smartphones to the oven timer — can create a cacophony of stress that pushes us past our limit. Take time every day to turn off your phone, tablet and computer. Read holiday classics with your family, go for a drive to admire lights or decorate the tree as a family.
No matter what you do, focus on the quality of the time instead of the quantity of texts and emails you might be missing. They will be there when you plug back in.
4. Exercise and Keep Moving
Exercise is a great stress reliever, because raising your heart rate decreases tension in the body, releases endorphins and improves sleep and mood. During the busy holiday season, it can be difficult to hit the gym. The cold weather and short days make it hard to go for a run in the neighborhood.
Instead, incorporate exercise into your normal routine. During your shopping trips, park far away from the entrance and take an extra lap around the mall before you leave. Schedule a few walking meetings during the day, so you aren’t sedentary during office hours.
5. Allow Yourself to Feel Sad
As happy as the holidays can be, they’re also a time we remember family and friends no longer with us. Experts encourage you to allow the grief by giving time to acknowledge it. Instead of pushing those feelings away, take the time to grieve during the holidays, say a prayer for your loved one and share special memories.
6. Express Your Gratitude
Expressing gratitude puts everything into perspective. Instead of focusing on what isn’t going well, you’ll realize you are surrounded by positivity and blessings. Gratitude also improves your health, as people who are grateful report fewer illnesses.
During cold and flu season, why not give an attitude of gratitude a try?
7. Laugh the Stress Away
Nothing relieves the tightness in your neck and back like a good belly laugh. Spend time with the silly kids in your life, turn on a Christmas comedy like “Elf” or look up blooper videos on YouTube. However you get your kicks, make sure you’re smiling and laughing throughout December.
8. Remember It’s OK to Say ‘No’
Once you pencil in family parties, school pageants and work functions, there is often no free time left on the calendar. This year, say no to a few non-essential parties like the neighborhood egg nog fest or the work happy hour. While you don’t want to turn into Scrooge, you’ll find it’s easier to stay sane with less on the calendar.
9. Practice Intentional Living
It’s easy to let the inertia of the holidays carry you through to January. We celebrate Thanksgiving, clean up, decorate for Christmas or Hanukah, celebrate, clean up, celebrate New Year’s Eve and then clean up again.
Before you know it, it’s the middle of January and you don’t feel like you saw or spent quality time with family and friends. Commit to living intentionally this holiday season by evaluating your common behaviors and traditions and defining your purpose and goals.
Stick to it and let everything else go, as the blonde sister from “Frozen” would want you to.
10. Focus on Experiences Instead of Gifts
Hours upon hours are spent trying to find gifts during the holidays. You might drive to three different stores looking for a particular game, spending an entire evening on an elusive gift. That is one night you aren’t with friends and family.
This Christmas, focus on experiences with your family instead of gifts — go caroling, watch Christmas movies, play board games or try a new restaurant. When you look back at your holidays, you’ll remember the time spent together and not the presents you received.
The beloved Christmas carol Silent Night repeats the words, “sleep in heavenly peace.” Unfortunately, there isn’t much sleep or peace for many of us during the holiday season. Keep your spirits up by practicing proven ways to save your sanity.