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Survival Guide For a Stress-Free Holiday Season

Do you dread the hustle and bustle of another holiday season? Between shopping, wrapping, baking, holiday cards, parties and many other obligations and tasks, surviving the season can be a feat, let alone finding the time to enjoy it with family and friends. This year, consider making a change to ease up and eliminate stress.

Plan Ahead

First, close your eyes and think back to the past couple of years and how hectic and stressful they felt. What percentage of holiday activities and tasks would you need to eliminate to make the season truly enjoyable and relatively stress-free? During this process, don't think about what you can't remove, just determine the percentage of reduction you need to make.

Next, list everything you need to do during the holiday season, to which parties you'll be invited, and how much money you'll spend. Now cross off the least important, least necessary and least popular events and tasks. Then review the list and calculate how much time and expense you've shaved off. If you haven't reached your predetermined reduction, review your list again.

Once you've decided which parties you'll attend and the commitments you'll make, plan how you'll decline the others, so you're not caught off guard.

Prepare to Share

Enlist your family to help prepare for the holidays and divvy up the tasks. Don't expect perfection from yourself or your family. Remember, you probably don't notice or mind the imperfections in others' holiday gatherings. They're just as unlikely to see any in yours.

Also, keep in mind the holiday season isn't the time to be head cook. Plan potluck gatherings and either suggest what each person should bring or, to avoid duplicates, ask guests to let you know what they'll bring.

Save Time & Energy

Save time in gift-wrapping by setting up a station in a spare room or the basement. Or stock a large box or basket with wrapping paper, ribbon, bows, tags, tape, scissors and pens, so everything is stored in one place. Have extras of everything on hand.

Keep cleaning to a minimum during the holidays. Dismiss unused areas guests won't see or use, and clean only the obvious in rooms that will be seen. The barely visible layer of dust on your baseboards is unlikely to be noticed with all the holiday decorations and festivities.

Make everyday meals quick and easy throughout the season. Soups, sandwiches, fresh fruit and vegetables, cottage cheese, veggies and dip, and other prepared or semi-prepared healthy foods will suffice for one month of the year.

Do your holiday shopping early in the day on weekdays while your energy is high and crowds are small, or shop online or by catalog. If an item lacks details, search for a manufacturer’s website to get the information you need.

Give gift cards. Hard-to-shop-for recipients will appreciate something practical. Gift cards to restaurants, department stores, sporting good outlets, specialty shops, or a massage, pedicure or round of golf make great gifts.

Don't overdo the baking. Your guests will likely have had their fill of holiday treats long before your gathering arrives. Also, the caring gesture of visiting or calling friends and neighbors, rather than delivering a plate of baked goodies, will be more enjoyable and meaningful for everyone.

Save Money

Does your gift list grow each year? Decide with whom it's essential to exchange gifts. Then talk to extended family, friends, coworkers and others about forgoing gift exchanges, putting a cap on the price or drawing names instead. You'll likely learn many feel the same as you do.

Celebrate with Children

Allow kids to spend the day they open their gifts at home. It's hardly fair and often stressful for kids to leave their gifts that they've waited so patiently to open. In turn, this causes stress for parents. So plan family get-togethers on Christmas Eve or for the weekends before or after the holiday. If there's no way around it, celebrate early with your kids the day or weekend before the holiday.

Traveling and holiday visiting can also be stressful for young children due to changes in their routines and unfamiliar faces. Have your kids help with packing, even if it's only for the day, to make sure their favorite toys aren't left behind. A security blanket or stuffed animal can also ease anxiety for young children in different surroundings. Don't forget to leave yourself plenty of time for rest stops as well.

Avoid taking children shopping during the holidays. Ask your partner or an older child to babysit, trade babysitting with a neighbor or friend, or hire a babysitter. This will not only reduce stress, but it'll also likely cut your shopping time in half.

Practice Self-Care

Enjoy holiday treats in moderation. High fat and sugary foods and the lack of healthy meals can lead to tiredness and stress. Keep goodies stored in the freezer where they’ll be less of a temptation. Have plenty of convenient, healthy snacks such as raw vegetables and nuts on hand. Prepare low-fat meals that won’t bog you down.

Pace yourself, and don’t try to do everything in one day. Finally, give yourself a break. Get plenty of exercise, such as a brisk walk in the fresh air, and set aside time for relaxation, like a long bubble bath.

Look Ahead

Start your shopping early for next year. Create a new tradition with a friend or family member and set a monthly shopping date for the upcoming year. By making a scheduled commitment, you'll be more likely to follow through. Keep the early holiday shopping fun and choose a different town or shopping center for each trip, focusing on unique malls or trendy cities.

Also, get a label-printing software program or app early in the year and enter all of the addresses on your holiday card list. When the holidays roll around, you can print the labels and eliminate the most time-consuming aspect of sending out holiday greetings.

Finally, remember the holiday season should be a joyful time for everyone, including yourself, to join in the good cheer with family and friends. Maximize ways to ease your stress and keep the “happy” in your holidays!

Kimberly Blaker is a freelance lifestyle writer at KB Creative Digital Services: