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how to stay calm during the holidays

It’s the most wonderful time of the year — or not, depending on how you view the holiday season. If you’re like most people, you probably have mixed feelings. On one hand, it’s a magical time of year — so festive and fun and filled with sparkly things! — but, on the other hand, it comes with a lot of extra stress and craziness that can be downright annoying. The trick to making the most of the holiday season — of the good and the bad — is keeping your cool. The calmer you can stay, the better everything becomes. The difficult situations are easier to cope with and the good times are much more enjoyable. But, of course, staying calm during the holidays isn’t always easy. Here are some of the best tactics for having a merrily calm holiday season:

DECIDE TO CHOOSE CALM

Too often, we go into the holiday season with a groan, envisioning the crowds, the traffic, the obligations. Doing this only enhances whatever negative experiences we might have and quickly dims the bright light of the positive side of the holidays. Instead of focusing on the stress, make it a goal to be calm this holiday season. Choosing this as a goal won’t automatically make every situation a piece of cake, but it will help you shift your focus when you find yourself feeling negative. Try treating calmness as a serious goal — just like baking five dozen cookies or wrapping all of your gifts before Christmas Eve — and you’ll be more likely to make it happen. (Bonus: tell other people it’s your goal and they’ll be happy to remind you of it when you start to appear less than peaceful!)

SAY NO TO NON-ESSENTIALS

This isn’t new advice, but it’s so vital that I cannot fail to add it to this list: learn to say no. It can be challenging during the holiday season to do this (after all, your cousin only has a holiday party once a year!), but the sooner you’re able to draw the line between what you absolutely have to do and what you can skip out on, the sooner you’ll be able to find a calm state of mind. One of the biggest stressors during the holidays is feeling like you have to do so many things (attend events, give gifts, bake cookies, trim the tree, attend religious services), but how many do you really have to do? Cut down on the to-do list and create more calm!

FOCUS ON THANKFULNESS

Gratitude usually gets a big spotlight in November with Thanksgiving, but its light is sometimes dimmed during the December holidays when stress and hecticness take over. Don’t let this be the case in your life. Choose to keep gratitude in the limelight all season long and it’ll be a lot easier to stay calm. For one thing, gratitude is good for your health, and the healthier you feel, the easier it is to keep your cool. And, in addition to physical benefits, gratitude does amazing things for your mind too. It helps you focus on what you have instead of what you don’t, which can cut way down on your stress levels. If you can, start each day in December by thinking of something you’re really grateful for. (Need ideas? Check out the 30-Day Gratitude Challenge.)

FIND WHAT’S REALLY THE ISSUE

The holidays often become super-stressful or unpleasant because they bring up issues that’ve been plaguing you all year long. If, for example, you’re having a tough time being single, the holidays will amplify feelings of loneliness. Or, if you’ve put way too many obligations on your calendar, the holidays will increase feelings of overwhelm. Sometimes it’s hard to even know what’s out of balance (this quiz can help to find out) so pay close attention to what’s really bothering you when you lash at out a loved one or feel exasperated with all of the holiday shoppers at the mall. The sooner you can identify (and address!) the real issue, the quicker you’ll be able to create more calm in your life.

MAKE POST-HOLIDAY PLANS

Let’s face it, sometimes, no matter how hard you try to minimize your obligations or soul-search your way out of a holiday funk, the holiday season will have stressful moments. Some years will be more lighthearted than others and some you’ll have to slog your way through (sad as that sounds!). If you’re having a particularly stressful holiday season, make some relaxing holiday plans so you’ll have something to look forward to. Sign up for a class, book a retreat, or have a little spa day planned for the beginning of the year. While you should do your best to enjoy the holidays (and stay present), sometimes it can be nice to have a little bit of relaxation to look forward when the holidays start feel a bit too chaotic.

Whatever holidays you celebrate and however you celebrate them, do your best to stay positive and to stay present. Doing so will not only make the season more enjoyable for you on a day-to-day basis, but it will also help you create a lasting sense of calm that you can come back to when things are getting particularly stressful. As the holiday season kicks off, I hope yours is filled with calm, peace, and love.

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