While the holiday season is magical and wonderful for many little tykes, it’s not always so easy for the grown-ups. Some of us face financial hardships, loss, and challenging family dynamics (what is it about the holidays that can stir up so much tension between family members!). Stress has a bad effect on our immune systems, not to mention our moods. I’m trying to get through the rest of 2012 with both unafflicted.

A few years ago, I created a Holiday Survival Guide for myself and shared it in a Neighbors Go edition. Each year, I revisit this list, delete things that didn’t work and add things I want to try. This year, because I have a few friends who are venturing into the holiday season after a recent loss or other significant life change, I’ve compiled a broader (and longer) list of ideas. So take what you want, and toss what you don’t. And whether you celebrate Christmas, Chanukah, or Eid Al Adha I wish you a safe and peaceful season and a wonderful end to 2012!

  1. Say No. (Sounds like a Grinch thing, but setting some boundaries can help manage stress and be downright liberating!) For instance, I’ve said yes to helping the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree, but no to riding on a float in the holiday parade. I said no to taking the kiddo to see The Rockettes Christmas show, but yes to a new tradition: Elf on a Shelf!
  2. Get extra rest when you can.
  3. Consider making some gifts. You can find all kinds of crafty ideas online. Last year, I made Christmas cards with my daughter. I was stunned by how easy it was, and we started a tradition.
  4. Breathe — When you feel the tension rising, take a deep breath and exhale slowly. This activates the part of your brain that can calm your nerves.
  5. Get a little exercise — even just a stroll after a meal or in the morning can do wonders for your stress level.
  6. Plan at least one event for yourself! Watch a favorite movie, read the paper or a book, make some of that special egg nog you love.
  7. Practice Gratitude. Gratitude boosts happiness. Did you know it’s impossible to feel sincere gratitude and anger at the same time? How, exactly, does one practice gratitude? Here are some ideas: Keep a gratitude journal. Make a dinner routine with your family that starts with saying 3 things you’re grateful for. When someone asks, “How are you?” you can answer with something you’re grateful for (instead of “I’m exhausted and soooo busy!” which tends to lead to a let’s-see-who-is-busier contest.)
  8. Take in the Good. Try to slow down and savor the good things, no matter how small. Maybe it’s the crisp cool air you can feel when you step outside to go to work, or being able to sleep a little later on your day off.
  9. Share the good. For instance, my family starts every dinner with sharing at least 3 good things that happened during the day.
  10. Accept a compliment (rather than dismissing it or not really hearing it at all).
  11. Abandon the desire for perfection! Don’t worry about the entire house being clean for visitors or baking cookies from scratch, especially if you don’t just looove doing that sort of thing!
  12. Set aside a special time to remember those you will miss this year. For instance, in most counties now, there are Tree of Angel ceremonies for those who lost loved ones to violent crime. This gives people time to gather with others who understand their experience, remember their loved ones and then give themselves permission to enjoy the rest of the season with those who remain in their lives, without feeling guilty. You can create your own special time to do this for someone you love who, for whatever reason, is no longer here to celebrate with you.
  13. Don’t worry about getting gifts for everyone under the sun. And see #3 for gifts for teachers, hairdressers, the postal worker, etc.
  14. Remember the big stuff — the stuff that really matters, the spirit of the season. Check out http://www.bigheartedfamilies.org/ for ideas.
  15. Keep some wiggle room in your schedule.
  16. Try to be flexible with plans and expectations.
  17. Avoid high traffic times whenever possible.
  18. Try to see the season through the eyes of a child. Just ask one, in case you’ve forgotten.
  19. Keep it Simple! Remember that more isn’t better. Traditions and good times will have more of an impact than gifts.
  20. Breathe. Yes, it’s worth another mention. It can work miracles!

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