As the holidays approach, there are often mixed feelings that arise. You may notice an increase of stress, worry, or tension within yourself or within your family more than you notice any increasing excitement or joy. Holiday stress causes many of us to suffer alone, behind the hustle and bustle of the people around us.

Perhaps you feel a sense of loneliness during the holidays, as you are longing for a loved one who is gone or feeling disconnected from those who are around you. Or, perhaps the pressure of the long list of to-dos has you completely overwhelmed. Feeling extra busy is a commonly the first thing we blame for the holiday stress that arises. You may feel that you don’t really have time to relax and enjoy the people around you (not to mention enjoying any time alone).

However, reducing stress, anxiety and sadness can be a priority and does not need to be put on hold during the holiday season. While there are a lot of things demanding your energy, consider also that this can be a time to get out of a typical routine that may be bringing you down.

Here are the five tips for reducing holiday stress and changing up the routine in a way that promotes more calm than chaos, which allows for some peace and joy in your holiday season.

1. Good old time management. It’s possible that not only can you not do it all, but you also don’t want to do it all. Take a look at your mental or physical list of to-dos, and rather than thinking about what you “should” do, consider what it is that really matters to you and those you care about the most.

Also, don’t forget to ask for assistance once you’ve made your list of things you want to accomplish, as this list will help you make more clear and reasonable requests of those around you who can be supportive. If you feel comfortable with your schedule, you’ll feel more in control of your holiday stress.

2. Value time with your main family unit. The holidays are often spent with extended family (undoubtedly where many of those “mixed feelings” I mentioned come from). Before letting yourself become overwhelmed by the thought of the whole experience, commit to yourself that the ultimate priority is your chosen family unit.

If you have children, your first priority is as a parent. Holiday stress can pull us apart rather than bring us together, so scheduling some down time with your kids is a must. Also, your relationship with your child’s other parent is crucial to your child’s experience. Often these closest connections are put on the back-burner as we rush through the holidays… ironic, isn’t it?

If you’re a couple, whether or not you and your spouse are close with each other’s families, make sure you check in on your expectations of each other before you jump into the holiday experience so that at the very least the two of you will be on the same page.

If you are single, consider who you really feel makes up your closest family unit. This could be anyone from your dad to your roommates or beyond. Make sure that you incorporate time with this person or group as a part of your holiday celebration.

3. Pick a line of communication to nurture within your family or friendship circle. This isn’t meant to come from place of guilt or obligation to someone else, but from a place of hope and valuing a connection that may be either neglected or unexplored. We all need support and connection, and many of us need it more during the holiday time. A healthy interaction within any sort of meaningful relationship can foster inner healing and can provide powerful stress reduction.

4. Set some healthy boundaries. In order to have healthy connections with both your close and your extended family, it helps to prioritize healthy boundaries. You can set these by agreeing to them yourself internally, and in some cases you may need to clearly and outwardly expressing them as well. This is especially true during the holidays, as there are often traditions or expectations placed upon you that aren’t during the year. Also, you may encounter friends or family whom you don’t often see, or you may find that close family members are feeling holiday stress themselves. Here are a few steps you can take toward making this happen…

a. Let go of at least one pressure or expectation that has bogged you down in the past when it comes to the holiday season. It could be a person that you interact with, a question that you dread hearing, an argument with your spouse, or the dish you are expected to bring. The holidays sometimes bring us down because we feel trapped by something that is no longer healthy or fulfilling to us. This year, commit only to the things that you are comfortable doing.

b. Practice looking within yourself in a moment of stress and finding your true feeling. Is it fear? Anger? Take a minute to acknowledge what you need and chose a mindful response to the situation. This will keep you grounded and stop you from becoming reactive or from shutting down in the face of holiday stress.

c. Separate yourself from negativity. Give yourself permission to control what you can as far as your surroundings, and when you feel uncomfortable, give yourself permission to not participate in the negative part of the experience. You can do this by choosing to speak up, stay silent, change the subject, or walk away from a situation entirely. Taking action to improve your situation in a given moment significantly reduces your chances of feeling overwhelmed by holiday stress.

5. Last but not least, remember the joy of the season, whatever it means to you. If you are a parent, modeling for your children an optimistic and grateful perspective can foster peaceful and happy memories. As an individual, search within yourself to find the peace and joy that you’re craving, and help it grow by sharing it with others. You’ll be surprised at how calming and centering it can be to offer your presence or assistance as an emotional gift to another person, if you do so without feeling obligated or forced – just out of your own respect for the joy that the season can bring when we set aside our holiday stress.

If you find that you are struggling beyond the relief that these tips and tools can offer you, don’t hesitate to contact me with questions about how to best handle holiday stress or sadness during this time. I can help you modify these tools in a unique way that works for you, as well as help you find more personal and meaningful ways to finally ease the stress in your life. I wish you a peaceful and rejuvenating holiday season!