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7-Step Cheat Sheet to Avoiding Holiday Stress

You’re unsure of what to get your boss for the holidays – or even if you should. Family is flying in soon and your place isn’t ready, not to mention the decorations aren’t up and the holiday meal ingredients aren’t in your pantry. Sound familiar?

The holidays can mean a pile up of stressful situations. It can be easy to get bogged down and overwhelmed by all the things to do, but there are ways to avoid the end-of-the-year strain. Neil Shah of the Stress Management Society, said getting a jump on holiday preparations can make a difference.

“Start now and always give yourself a time buffer,” he said to Express. “Draft a clear to-do list so you can de-junk your mind, then pick out tasks that are neither urgent nor essential and delegate them. Don’t be a martyr – get help.”

Your seven step cheat sheet to holiday cheer begins here:

1. Take on the role of the Pre-Christmas Peacemaker

Odds are you’ll have a better holiday if you reprogram the way you think about the upcoming festivities. Focusing on the aspects that you consider stressful or negative could make you another part of the problem.

Julia Cole, a senior psychotherapist at Priory Wellbeing Centre in Southampton, England, said committing to being more positive and letting go of old grudges could help.

“Peace and goodwill to all can work if you commit to it,” Cole said. “But if you’ve spent many years stifling irritation about your mother-in-law dictating Christmas or your partner’s drinking habits, this can lead to arguments at a time when you just want a rest from work and to have a good time. Pre-empt these feelings by tackling anything you know is tricky well in advance so it doesn’t come as a surprise. Let people know what you want and expect – and listen to them in return.”

2. Kick Tradition to the Curb

Changing up your holiday routine could help, especially if you have some bad memories connected to old traditions. You could take your holiday on vacation or avoid people you’d rather not see – it’s up to you. One simple change could help.

“Avoid following the same patterns you had in previous years. Consider eating something other than the traditional meal, visit friends or even take a holiday away. This will help lessen unhappy memories and give you a chance to make new traditions,” Cole said.

3. Lower Your Expectations

Making sure you’re not asking too much of people is one thing, but expecting a perfect holiday is a sure-fire way to disappointment. Something is bound to turn out unexpectedly – whether a family member shows up last minute, or the ham burns – so why worry?

Alexander Hedger, a psychotherapist of, said making high standards for yourself could also be a problem.

“Expecting too much of yourself is a sure-fire way to increase stress levels. Ask yourself what you think you should or must be doing. Sometimes the expectations we have aren’t helpful, especially if we feel others might judge us,” he said. “Don’t try and cram in too much. Taking a break will give you time to recharge your batteries before the New Year starts.”

4. Plan Ahead

Making a list and checking it twice doesn’t just apply to Santa. If you’re worried about the holiday being more than you can handle, plan ahead by doing a little at a time.

Create a checklist of things you want to get done, then reserve a day and time to do them. Just planning the holiday menu ahead of time with an early trip to the store can take a weight off you didn’t know was on your shoulders.

“If you’re expecting the holidays to be difficult, it can be tempting to bury your head in the sand, forget about it and deal with it when it comes up,” Hedger said. “But this often backfires as it can leave you unprepared. Prioritise flashpoints, such as family feuds, then think how you’re going to either avoid a scene or how you’ll deal with it. Take care not to overthink and worry about the same thing happening.”

5. Set Boundaries

There’s only so much you can do by yourself, so make sure you’re not taking on more than you can handle. The best policy is when in doubt, say no. If you’re signed up for bringing cups to the work holiday party, stick with it instead of adding on a dish because you feel guilty that you’re not doing enough.

Setting some boundaries for yourself to follow could mean the difference between running around with last minute chores, or enjoying one of many holiday movies because you’ve done what you could.

Life coaches Jo Westwood and Lucy Sheridan said making sure to be honest about what you can take on is important.

“Be honest about your commitments,” Westwood and Sheridan said. “Chances are other people are feeling just as frazzled and overwhelmed.”

6. Minimize Distractions

Nothing says you’re not interested like your face in your phone during the holidays. Take time away from the buzzing electronics to focus on what you want to do and to avoid any added stress.

Sean Patrick, a psychologist, said interruptions could add unnecessary and unwanted stress that we don’t even realize.

“Turn off your phone notifications while you’re Christmas shopping. It’s stressful enough without having to answer everyone’s messages and hearing the pings,” he said. “Set time aside to watch your favourite Christmas film without interruptions – this will help reduce your stress levels. Finally, don’t feel you have to see everyone in the lead-up to Christmas. Make use of the downtime between Christmas and New Year.”

46011245 – family toasting with red wine in

7. Remember What the Holidays Are About

The holidays aren’t really about whether you got the shoes you wanted or whether your favorite dish was featured at dinner. Remembering to stay positive and grateful can put things into perspective.

Westwood and Sheridan said keeping a positive-aspects journal could help, by recording what you enjoyed or appreciated about the holidays.

“Among all the consumer madness, panic over Christmas dinner and other ‘shoulds’, don’t forget it’s about celebrating the year gone by and spending time with people who are important to you,” they said.