No matter how much you love the holidays, stress is an uninvited guest — whether or not you have real-life visitors. There's a lot to do, a lot of money to spend, and a lot of people to please. Take a deep breath and employ these 10 tactics, which don't cost a thing, to manage stress during the holiday season.
CELEBRATE WITH IMMEDIATE LOVED ONES ONLY
Fewer people at a holiday gathering means less food, less money, and less overall stress. As satisfying as it is to be invited to a slew of parties and events, this breeds trouble. Each invitation turns into an obligation to buy at least one gift and likely make a contribution to the dinner table as well. Politely decline invitations and explain your new less-stress approach (if an explanation seems warranted).
As a family, commit to donating to a charity or to the kids' college funds instead of buying gifts. Get the extended family on board to cut gift costs even more. Everyone determines how much and where to contribute, but the end goal is the same: Spend less and stress less.
HOST A POTLUCK
Rather than buying all the groceries and cooking the entire holiday meal, invite guests to pitch in. Breaking the affair into smaller, more manageable tasks significantly lowers the amount of time, effort, and money expended. Consider choosing a theme so all the contributed dishes complement each other. A healthy menu based on fresh, locally sourced foods, for example, might leave everyone feeling virtuous, not stuffed.
Waiting until the last minute to buy gifts for everyone on your list, cook a side dish, or clean the house is asking for anxiety. Set deadlines well in advance to eliminate cramming at crunch time. Buy items as you see them — especially if they're on sale — and make to-do lists with a "due date" notation. When the big day arrives, you might even feel, if not relaxed, less inclined to yank out your hair.
UPDATE THE HOLIDAY CARD LIST
Holiday cards easily cost more than $1 apiece — and that doesn't count postage. Take time to double-check the card list so nothing marked "return to sender" shows up in your mailbox. Are you still in touch with everyone? Are you sure the addresses are current? There's no sense in wasting time and money sending out more than necessary.
GET OUT OF TOWN
Put the money you would have used on gifts toward a family holiday vacation that won't break the bank. Set a budget and stick to it. Be sure to account for costs such as airplane tickets, lodging, food, entertainment, and incidentals. If the extended family tags along, have everyone chip in to cover their share.
USE SAVED VACATION DAYS
If paid vacation time accrues throughout the year, reserve several days for the holidays. Though the end of the year is usually a slow time at the office for most people, being able to put job concerns aside may be worth it. Time at home during the day means more time to prepare, fewer balls to juggle, and a lot less pressure.
LEND A HELPING HAND
There are deserving people who may need help during the holidays. Offer your time serving food at a homeless shelter, packaging items at a food bank, or delivering hot meals to those who don't have access to the bounty your family enjoys. The work will help put most problems in perspective.
PUT YOUR FAMILY TO WORK
Relieve some pressure by recruiting loved ones to take on some tasks. Children can be a big help in the kitchen, and adults can run errands and tackle critical chores around the house. With less on your plate you may actually look forward to hosting holiday festivities.
TRY A NEW TRADITION
Just because you've always celebrated one way doesn't mean you can't mix it up this year. One new tradition or shift in routine may help manage holiday stress. Dine at a restaurant, celebrate on a different day, buy presents only for the kids — whatever you need to keep the season special without adding stress.