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Bake dozens of different types of cookies. Hang decorations on every square inch of your home: indoors and outdoors. Buy presents for everyone on your ever-growing gift list, even though your credit card is dangerously close to maxing out.

And in the process, feel your stress level build up to the point where you’re snapping at your nearest and dearest, unable to get a good night’s sleep, and definitely not in a holiday frame of mind.

If this describes your annual December experience, Nancy Christie, author of The Gifts of Change (Atria/Beyond Words), has some tips to help you de-stress your holidays.

“Start by making a list of those rituals that are part of your seasonal activities. Identify the ones that have meaning for you and your family, and delete those that you are hanging onto just because you have always done them,” she recommends. “Too often we keep doing the same activities because they are baked into the routine. But if they no longer make you feel good or if circumstances have made them impractical, eliminate them and just retain those that create a ‘feel good’ response.”

A big part of stress comes from feeling as though it’s all out of your control, Christie notes. “The To-Do list keeps growing, and every day you wake up with a sense of dread,” she says. “Take a new approach and make a goals list: specific actions or intentions that you are committing to as part of the season. Some examples are resolving to reduce your gift budget so when the January bills arrive you’re not in a state of panic, or setting aside time for a family activity as a way of reconnecting. You may find that creating a goals list results in removing some of those To-Do items. That’s okay. Chances are they were more of a source of tension than pleasure anyway!”

Finally, says Christie, introduce at least one de-stressing activity that you can turn to when life gets a bit too much to handle. “Even going for a walk while listening to holiday music can help bring down that level of anxiety and pressure that is threatening to overwhelm you. Find what works for you and try to do it at least several times a week. It will make you happier—and a nicer person for others to be around!”

Christie has more suggestions in her “Tips to Destress Your Holidays” pdf, available for download from her Tool for a Change page (

In the end, she says, “the purpose of the season isn’t to go into holiday overload physically, financially or emotionally. It’s really to remind us of what we have: the relationships that fill us with joy, the blessings we have received throughout the year, and the hope that we can hold onto those positive, life-affirming feelings when 2020 rolls around. If we can do that, our holidays will be less stressful and more celebratory!”

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