The holidays are officially here – a season of giving, living and loving.  A time for sharing and spending time with family and friends.  And somehow it can be stressful.  For many of us it’s a time when our perfection gene kicks in. After all, who doesn’t want it to be perfect! We want to make the perfect recipes, give the perfect gifts, plan the perfect party and find the perfect clothes to wear (well some of us do).  The holiday season often needs weeks of preparation and with all the planning we can loose the spirit of the season because we become overwhelmed with the hectic pace and the planning we must do to make it PERFECT for those we love.

We all want to enjoy the holidays and create memories for one another that are positive and loving. You plan the holidays and all the tasks at hand.  During all your planning,  why not create your personal plan to alleviate the stress?  Here are 13 tips to help you reduce stress during the holidays and really enjoy yourself.

1. Eat Healthy – This is probably the most difficult thing to do, especially during the holidays.  There is usually an abundance of food like pastries and more to drink than we normally do – especially when we go to holiday parties.  Smart eating is a conscious decision.  One that takes forethought and planning.  Look for chances to eat more fruits and vegetables, grains and beans and other non-fat foods that will keep your energy levels up and your fat intake down. And never try to diet during the holidays.  It is a sure way to cause more stress and lower your self-esteem in the process.

2. Breath and Exercise – Slow deep breaths help reduce stress and bring on a sense of peace and calm. Take walks before and after meals.  Ride your bike, learn to stretch.  If you can go outdoors during your lunch hour, take your lunch with you and go for a walk. Walk with a friend or loved one.  You get to spend added time together and the two of you will create a wonderful memory.  The added benefit, you could keep doing this long after the holidays are over. Get plenty of rest.

3. Laugh and Play – Focus on the positive. Watch a funny holiday movie together.  Make popcorn and sit by the fireplace.  Build a campfire and roast marshmallows. Take a drive. Dance.  Go to a park and ride the seesaw.  Watch children play.  Imitate them.  That is sure to make you laugh.  Laugh at yourself and with others.

4. Shop Early – Start your holiday shopping early.  I shop all year round.  When I see something I know someone will appreciate, I buy it.  For two reasons: one it may not be there when I go back and two:  I might forget where I saw it or what I saw. The only challenge you may have is finding a place to “hide” your new purchases before your loved-ones can find them – in fact, you may hide them so well, that you forget where you put them.  Trust me, I  have experienced this first-hand.  But I cannot tell you about it as I am planning on giving that gift this year!

5. Make your Lists and Check them Twice. – Lists can really help you get organized.  Holiday gift lists, meal planning lists and a list of the parties you really want to go to and those you could probably pass up this year. Remember to be flexible when you make those lists.

6. Simplify Your Life –    No matter how hard we try, things happen in life to put a kink in our plans.  Someone gets sick, our recipes don’t turn out as we had hoped, we may run out of time and we often run out of money. Aim for simplification instead of perfection. This includes spending less money on people and more time with them.  After all time is really more precious to most of us. Stop doing and start living.

7. Learn to Delegate – If you are one of those people who feel that it won’t get done correctly unless you do it yourself, then you probably have high stress levels in your life.  Instead of wrapping all the gifts yourself this holiday season, why not recruit family members to help you?  Or pay the department store to do it for you.  This will give you added precious time to do other things you love to do and want to do. Instead of making a perfect apple pie, find a local baker to make one for you or get one from your local grocers freezer (hey, those Mrs. Smith’s deep dish pies are pretty darn good).

8. Take Control of Your Time – when you have lists you can better plan your time.  Nothing causes more stress than doing things at the last minute.

9. Just Say No – to extra commitments, a second helping of food or more to drink. You don’t have to have the party at your house this year.  Find another location and let someone else make the plans.  Say no to more meetings, and events, reschedule them for when you can give 100 % to the effort.

10. Learn to Let Go – It’s okay not to do everything on your list.  Prioritize and put the most important things at the top.  Put those things you would like to get done, but aren’t mandatory at the bottom.  If you get to them, great.  If not, that’s okay.  So what if you don’t get the ceiling fans dusted before company arrives.  Studies have shown that children are much more inquisitive than adults and look up often. However, when we reach a certain age, we simply stop doing so.  If a child looks up, it is highly unlikely she or he will even notice the dust or cobwebs. Unless you are out to impress a child with your extreme cleanliness, let go and don’t worry about it.

11. A Change of Scenery Works Wonders – Do something different this year.  Instead of having the holiday meal at your house because you have done it every year for the past 20+ years is not mandatory.  If you normally stay home for the holidays, why not take a trip.  If you live in a warm climate, go to a place where it snows, and vice-versa.  Take a drive to the country or the city.  Visit friends and family.  Go to a nursing home and bring cheer to those who may not have a family to spend time with.

12. Take time to Smell the Roses – A walk in the garden can clear your head and fill your heart with gladness.  Spend time with those you love. Share memories and laugh together.  This is what creates memories for the future. Establish your own traditions.  We have a Christmas box and each year during our holiday meal together we write something that has meaning for us.  One year I had everyone write what their favorite or most memorable present was.  During desert, we each picked a piece of paper out of the box and tried to guess who wrote it.  And it didn’t really matter if we guessed correctly because we asked the person who wrote it to tell us about that memory.  It was so much fun, we started doing this every year with a new slant such as a favorite childhood memory or favorite childhood toy or person… you get the idea.

13. Be Grateful – Thank your higher power for all you do have instead of focusing on all those things you want or would like to have. Go caroling. Find a family that is less fortunate than yours and offer to make them a holiday meal or decorate a tree for them or get them a special gift.  Or all of the above if you have the means. Helping others, helps us feel that sense of gratitude for all the blessings we have in our lives and truly enjoy the magic of the season.

When you are beginning to get stressed, these tips can help you overcome that feeling. Learn not to worry about things of which you have no control. Smile more.  Laugh.  Spread holiday cheer. The more cheer you spread to others the more it comes back to you. Remember that the best gifts are free. Focus on what’s really important and only do those things that give your life meaning and stop doing those things that you don’t even enjoy doing. Make time to connect with others. Your time, your talent and your treasures will help you enjoy this holiday season.