5 Ways to Cut Holiday Stress

5 Ways to Cut Holiday Stress
It's December, which means bells aren't the only things jingling and jangling: for many of us, our nerves seem to be, too. The holidays are a stressful time, and though nothing can alleviate that stress altogether (short of opting out of celebrating anything), there are ways to help keep the hair-pulling, nerve-shaking moments at bay. Here are five I put to use myself.

Send New Year's greetings
I fully intended to send holiday cards in December this year, as I normally do. Then my schedule started to fill with work, my social calendar started getting (pleasantly) full, and the rest of life clamored for attention. So I've decided to send my holiday greetings after the turn of the year. My cards won't get lost in the shuffle of the dozens of other greetings my friends and family will receive this month, I have one less task to worry about in December, and I can take the time to write more meaningful messages come January. (As an added bonus, many holiday cards go on sale right after Christmas, so I may even be able to save a few bucks--always a welcome prospect this time of year.)

Ask for (and accept) help
Each year, I throw a holiday party for my friends. It's a big undertaking, and one that definitely involves some planning and some effort, but it's made much easier by the fact that I know I can count on my friends to lend a hand. Some bring wine and beer, some pitch in to help set up or clean up, and some bring food.

Relying on others to help out means giving up some control: I let folks bring whatever food and drink they're inclined to bring, have lost a few wine glasses to others' slippery hands in the sink, and sometimes get a few surprises. But to me, that's half the fun, and it's definitely worth it in the stress and effort I save. Plus, it lets my guests feel more involved in the celebration.

Aim low(er)
This month's issue of Martha Stewart Living boasts elaborately sparkled fake birds on the cover, as well as a promise of recipes for "perfect cookies." Great! More power to anyone with enough time, attention, and ambition to bedeck birds with glitter and bake elaborate sweets.

I'll be keeping my decorations simple--a live Christmas tree with white lights, a single strand of silver star garland, and some silver glass balls, along with a few holiday accents scattered here and there throughout the house--and my baking low-key. Remember, unless you're hosting a fancy party for guests you absolutely must impress (in which case see the tip directly above), chances are your family and friends won't demand perfection.

Slack off a little
There are a few regular organizing tasks that are easy enough that they're worth sticking with even in the midst of holiday chaos: regularly opening mail, putting things away when you're done with them, and doing small chores often so they don't become huge.

Others, though, can safely fall by the wayside until January: you probably don't need to devote too much time this month to, say, de-cluttering your closet, reorganizing your files, or weeding out unread books from your shelves. Once the holidays are over, you'll have more time, will be able to give these tasks more attention, and may just be more motivated to attack them.

Focus on what's behind the celebrations
When I work with clients, I always try to help them focus on the real reasons they want to get organized--for example, to feel less stressed, to have more time, and to feel more comfortable in their homes and offices. By the same token, it's worth reminding yourself in the midst of the hustle of the holiday season why you're celebrating in the first place.

For me, the center of the holidays is spending time with family and friends, many of whom I don't often see. I also love having the chance to look back at the past year and look ahead to the next. These points of focus are behind all of the things I do around the holidays--from decorating to hosting my party to travelling back east. When my days get crazy and my stress level mounts, I can step back and remind myself what I'm really celebrating.

Try putting a few (or all) of these stress-cutting techniques to work this holiday season. I hope you'll find that they give you more time to take part in the traditions that mean the most to you with the people you care about. And you might just discover that, come January, you're more relaxed, refreshed, and ready to make 2006 your best year yet.

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