When I see clients the week after Thanksgiving, many of them say that Thanksgiving was wonderful, but then they started looking at the calendar for the days and weeks ahead and just felt overwhelming anxiety.

Many people feel this way during the holiday season. They have to continue with their regular lives, and then add in many extra holiday activities — holiday parties at work and at school, end-of-year sports awards and music recitals, decorating, gift-buying, church activities, cookie exchanges, and the list seems to go on. I’m exhausted just thinking about it!

All of these activities are wonderful by themselves. They allow you to spend time with your loved ones and they allow you to express appreciation for those people. But they can lead you to feel stressed and anxious, which lowers your enjoyment of the event, can make you irritable, and can weaken your immune system leaving you susceptible to the viruses going around.

How can you lower your stress during this holiday season and put the odds in your favor for a healthy, happy holiday?

Take Control of Your Calendar

The first step to lowering your stress is to take control of your calendar. Go ahead and examine the month of December now. Make sure all of the extra activities for your entire family are included on your calendar.

With everything there, make the first pass at taking control. There are going to be days that have overlapping activities. Make the choice now about which one you will attend. You know you can’t be in two places at once, so don’t make yourself crazy by trying to stay an hour at one event and then run to the next before it finishes. Choose one.

Now that you are only attending one event at a time, make another pass at taking control of your calendar. Look at days that have multiple activities. Maybe on a Saturday you have an activity in the morning, one in the afternoon, and a holiday party at night. Consider realistically whether you will be able to make it to all three activities. Which activity is most important? As you consider which is most important, think about which events and people will lift you up. Choose to attend the events that will lift you up and don’t go to the least important.

One challenge you might have as you try to take control of your calendar is FOMO — the Fear Of Missing Out. FOMO is real, but carefully choosing your activities will allow you to avoid FOMO. You will know you picked the best options.

Schedule Your Healthy Habits

Great! You’ve got a wonderfully managed calendar and you’re only attending one event at a time. Now it is time to schedule your healthy habits.

You can schedule your time at the gym, and you can schedule time for grocery shopping. But what I want you to think about is scheduling time to sleep. Sleep is so important to all aspects of our health including our immunity. It is also the best way to make sure you are energized for the rush of events.

Schedule 7 – 9 hours of sleep for yourself every night and don’t trade it in for something like baking another batch of holiday cookies.

Add Whitespace to Your Calendar

With a reasonable number of events and your healthy habits on your calendar, the next step is  to add whitespace to your calendar.

Whitespace is actual planned time that you don’t have anything to do, and you aren’t going to fill it with things like grocery shopping and laundry. Whitespace is different than blocking out a Friday evening, knowing that you’ll do something with your family. That space you know you will fill, even if it looks blank most of the week.

With whitespace on your calendar, you keep the time open and use it to take care of yourself. It could be time to do yoga, write in your journal, take an epsom salt bath, or just sit quietly. The whitespace does not have to be an hour long. It is difficult to carve out an hour at any time of year, but you can give yourself 15 or 30 minutes once or twice a week.

The whitespace on your calendar gives you space in your mind and spirit. It lowers your stress and keeps you healthy.

Ask for Help

Your calendar is under control, you’ve built in time to take care of yourself, but one of the stresses of the holiday season is the extra things that need to get done that don’t fit into your regular calendar. The things I’m thinking of are decorating your house for the holidays, baking cookies for the cookie exchange that your work has every year, buying presents for your family and friends, helping your children buy presents, wrapping presents, and so on.

To lower your stress this holiday season, ask for help. Ask your partner and family for help decorating the house. Ask your partner to take half of the gift recipient list and take care of gifts for those people. If you’re hosting a holiday meal, ask your guests to bring something specific to contribute to the meal.

The holidays are a wonderful time. Make sure that this year you have time to enjoy the season by taking control of your calendar, adding whitespace to take care of yourself, and asking for help.

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