The holidays. Such a wonderful time of year, right? A little louder, I can’t hear you.

Parties, gifts, Christmas music and lights. Eating, drinking, decorating, and family get- togethers. This time of year offers a smorgasbord of opportunity for fun, comfort and delight. Yet there’s something else that’s bustling out there, and that’s counselling offices.

This time of year is prime breeding ground for stress and this stress can trigger a series of chemical reactions in the brain that leads to all kinds of emotional and physical symptoms. It turns out that stress can be the biggest Scrooge of all, zapping the joy out of the season and leaving us feeling depleted, even empty. The good news is that there are many things within our control we can do to help make the holidays a pleasant, relaxing time of year.

Holiday Stress Buster #1 Realistic Expectations

Is ‘wonderful’ too much to strive for? Or is it enough to have a ‘nice’ or ‘pleasant’ holiday? Realistic expectations can help to take the pressure off, leaving less room for disappointment in ourselves and others.

Holiday Stress Buster #2 Prioritize

Which gatherings are most important to attend? Who must you buy presents for? How much baking is really necessary? How many people would you like to have over? Which charities or organizations do you want to donate your time or money to right now? Remember we have all year to make time for important people in our lives, get busy in the kitchen and be kind and giving.

Holiday Stress Buster #3 Enjoying Family

The family gathering is one of those rare events that brings a very different group of people together with the expectation that everyone will not only get along but have a wonderful (there’s that word again) time. Family gatherings can be nice. But they can also stir up not so nice feelings. In preparation, it can help to stay focused on the present moment while visiting with family, getting caught up, listening to their stories, sharing your own, and enjoying their company.

Holiday Stress Buster # 4 Careful with the Dough

Spending within our means significantly helps to minimize stress during the holidays. We can be our own worst enemy, thinking we have to spend more than we can afford to make other people happy with gifts. How would you feel if you knew someone spent more money on you than they can comfortably afford? How many gifts do kids need to find under the tree to have a good Christmas? What message are we giving them if we go overboard? Advertisements can mislead us into thinking we must purchase things but we have total control over what we choose to buy or not buy and how we view it.

Holiday Stress Buster # 5 Say “ha, ha, ha”

Laughing helps to relieve stress, lighten things up and enjoy the moment. It’s contagious, too! Humour can be found in almost any situation.

Holiday Stress Buster # 6 Go with the Flow

Accepting that everything won’t go as planned will help to avoid disappointment and adapt to new situations as they arise. Being gentle with ourselves and others will also help.

Holiday Stress Buster # 7 Be Part of the Community Spirit

Fill a thermos with hot chocolate and find the best Christmas light displays in town. Strap on some ice skates. Get outside for a nice long walk. Attend community events that look like fun. Participating in these kinds of activities can help us to feel grounded and relaxed over the holidays.

Holiday Stress Buster # 8 Practice Self Care

Even with all the challenges on time and energy (especially with all the challenges on time and energy) at this time of year, getting enough sleep, eating regular nourishing meals and exercising are important. So is taking breaks and making time to relax and do nothing.

Holiday Stress Buster # 9 Give

Give. Pay it forward. Buy coffee for the person behind you in the Tim Horton’s drive through. Buy lunch for a homeless person. Sponsor a family. Donate to a charity. Volunteer your time. Shovel your neighbour’s driveway. Leave an anonymous gift on a doorstep.

Hope you enjoy the holidays!

Donna Sales

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Donna Sales is a Registered Psychologist and writer living in Calgary, Canada. Her website is www.donnasales.ca. She is the founder of Hope Café.