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11 Ways to Reduce Holiday Stress

How to Make Time for Yourself During This Busy Season
  -- By Megan Patrick, Staff Writer

For many of us, the holidays are as stressful as they are fun. Starting with Halloween in October and going all the way until New Year's Day, these months are filled with special occasions, eating temptations and family obligations. When you add these things on top of time-consuming efforts to eat better and get more exercise, you can end up feeling frustrated and defeated. Here are 11 ways rethink how you manage the holidays so you can still have time for yourself.

1. Change Your Mindset. Of course, the holidays are a special time of year meant to celebrate friends and family, but we're not talking about a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence here. Christmas may come but once a year, but it comes every single year without fail. If you're too busy to participate in every party or family tradition this year, don't worry. There's always next year! This same kind of thinking can also help you make healthier decisions when it comes to holiday eating. Yes, your aunt's gingerbread cookies are delicious, but you can enjoy a couple every year instead of feeling like you have to eat the whole tin all at once. Sweet talk her into giving you the recipe, and, even if you never get around the baking them, you'll know that you can have your favorite treat anytime you want.

2. Practice the Power of No. The word no is extremely powerful and liberating. It's tempting to say yes to every invitation and every opportunity to volunteer during the holidays. But you'll enjoy the parties and other events more if you pick and choose the ones that are closest to your heart. There's no need to lie or to explain why you can't participate. Simply say, "I'm sorry. I already have plans for that time." Whether your plan is to make time for exercise or simply to get some needed rest, don't feel obligated to take on more than you can. This can be quite challenging, though. Force yourself to practice saying no in small ways. For example, try politely refusing a cookie from a well-meaning coworker.

3. Simplify Your Celebration. Holiday traditions are wonderful and help create lasting family memories, but there's no reason why you can't choose to create new traditions that better fit your current lifestyle. Do you really need to cook a meal for your entire extended family? Instead, could you roast the turkey or make another main course and ask everyone else to bring a side dish or dessert? Do you really need to buy multiple gifts for everyone? Instead, could the adults in the family draw names to create a smaller gift exchange and save other gift giving for children? (Learn more about the idea of creating voluntary simplicity in your life.)

4. Focus on Others. Instead of getting wrapped up in gift giving, baking and other holiday obligations, find a way to give back to your community this year. You might choose to volunteer at a toy drive for underprivileged children or help out at a local food bank. Instead of fighting crowds at the mall, you could be doing good for others and for yourself. There are many benefits to giving back for your own health and well-being.

5. Choose a Charity Gift. Another great way to avoid the mall or hours of online shopping is to give charity gift cards to friends and family. You can buy cards and certificates from sites like TisBest, JustGive and Network for Good that allow the recipient to donate the money to the non-profit of their choice. That way you and your family can feel good about supporting causes that are important to each one of you.

6. Don't Skip Your Regular Workouts. It's easy to find extra time in your schedule by cutting back on gym visits or afternoon walks, but because exercise is such an effective form of stress relief, all you'll be buying yourself is exhaustion and added worry. By the same token, don't try to beat holiday eating by ramping up your workouts to unrealistic levels. Instead, enjoy holiday treats in moderation and focus on sustainable fitness goals. If you want to add some extra calorie burn to your regular cardio (in a short amount of time), try some high-intensity interval training.

7. Boost Your Immune System. There's nothing more stressful during the holidays than coming down with a cold or the flu. To protect yourself during the winter months, make sure you're getting ample fruit and vegetables in your diet, staying hydrated, getting enough sleep and washing your hands regularly. And get a flu shot to protect yourself from the most common strains of the flu virus.

8. Be Flexible. Instead of trying to pack multiple family celebrations into a single day or weekend, create your own schedule for festive gatherings when it's more convenient for everyone. For example, if you celebrate Thanksgiving with one side of your family, invite the other side over a few days later to celebrate leftovers day. Everyone can bring leftovers or a new dish to share. You can eat up all the extra food while it's still good and spend time with the people you love in a less formal setting than a sit-down dinner.

9. Take a Day Off. Rather than trying to fit all your holiday errands in on the weekend, use one of the vacation days you were saving for the holidays for some stress-free mid-week shopping. The mall will be less crowded and you'll be able to zip through all the tasks on your list. And you'll also get more done on that day you're alone in the office without any interruptions from coworkers. Not being greeted by an overflowing email inbox on January 2 will be a huge stress reliever, too.

10. Get Out of Town. Need a fool-proof excuse for skipping out on holiday obligations? Book a vacation. It can be just you and your significant other, or you can bring your immediate family along. Use the money you would have spent on gifts to fund your trip and accumulate memories instead of stuff. Who knows, maybe winter travel is a new family tradition that you can pass on to the next generation--the gift of a totally stress-free holiday season!

11. Take a Deep Breath. If you find yourself feeling too stressed out and overwhelmed to even consider any of the suggestions above, pause for five minutes and take a few cleansing breaths. Then get a piece of paper and write down all the tasks that are swirling around in your head and driving your crazy. Consult a calendar and allot specific time periods to spend on each item on your list. Once you have a plan in place, you can focus on checking off tasks instead of worrying about how to juggle everything. (Discover 10 simple ways to de-stress in five minutes or less.)