4 Ways To De-Stress Your Holiday Season

The mistletoe is hung, the tree is lit, the parties are planned. . . and you’re stressed. Possibly even miserable.

May we issue a kind reminder: this is not the point of the holidays!

If you’re interested in taking the classic ritual of self-sacrifice out of your holiday season, consider the four following steps:

1. Cook less, play more. You see the images on television, in glossy magazine spreads and splashed across the pages of cookbooks—immaculately lain dinner tables featuring at least 10 gourmet, steaming dishes.

But you don’t live on television, in a magazine or in a cookbook. It’s time to let go of those studio-created images and live a happier life for it.

Your family and friends—and especially your kids—want to spend time with you. Take a look at your holiday menus. If any meals feature five or more dishes, begin to whittle away at the list until you’re left with just three or four.

Of the dishes that remain, scrap or modify any that take more than 3 total combined hours of preparation. Spend the hours that you’ll save playing games, seeing sights and making memories instead.

Have a dish that takes all day to prepare that you simply can’t give up? Time for the next tip.

2. Outsource tasks. Paying others to perform the more arduous tasks of a holiday—cooking, house cleaning, gift wrapping—is a godsend lessening of your stress load. Many businesses exist (and some of them only seasonally) to assist in these tasks, and their rates are generally competitive.

Contact a catering company, cleaning company or personal shopping assistant. Relax as someone who’s in need of holiday money takes care of your holiday needs for you. This doesn’t mean that you have to let go of control – send your assistant a tutorial on how to create the perfect holiday table, and specify the color scheme and theme of your choosing. You’ll get exactly what you want, without having to do the work yourself.

3. Shop less and give gift cards or money instead. Yes, the thought of someone’s face lighting up after they’ve opened the perfect gift is a nice one, but it requires a superhuman task: actually finding that perfect gift.

If you’re like most of us, you’ve had to feign delight upon opening a gift you didn’t like. Erase that awkward possibility by letting most (or all) of the people on your gift list choose what they truly want; gift cards and cash are the answer. Or donate to the giftee’s favorite charity in their name – more on that next.

4. Look around and lend a hand. Glance briefly at the above suggestions; all three are solutions to good problems to have—too much food, too many loved ones and too many gifts.

Not everyone is fortunate enough to have those problems.

Helping those less fortunate is perhaps the best cure-all for holiday stress. You can go about charity in one of two ways: donating to charitable organizations from afar or directly performing a charitable act yourself. There’s no right or wrong way.

Should you choose to donate to a charity, remember they’re not all created equal. Many of them take home almost as much in salary as they give in donations (and sometimes more). Sites like Charity Navigator have done some of the research, but discussion forums will generally give a clearer idea of any given charity’s reputation.

Remember, if holidays are truly meant to be enjoyed, you’re not bound by any tradition that you don’t personally adore. Blasé about eggnog? Bust out the margaritas. Can’t stand It’s A Wonderful Life? Don’t apologize for watching your favorite horror flick instead. Think that snow is overrated? Indoor miniature golf has never looked so good.

Do you have any tricks to de-stress the holidays not mentioned above? Share your wisdom in the comments section!