“What are your plans for the Holidays?” Aunt Karen asks. 


Suddenly, you’re sweating and feeling like the word Holidays, as the kids say, is a trigger word. You’re filled with panic. Vignettes of previous holiday chaos flashes before your eyes. Should the mashed potatoes have milk or heavy cream? What is pumpkin pie spice anyway, and Mom didn’t make it this way? Are the dogs fighting again or is that your cousin and his new girlfriend? The office lights flicker illuminating the leftover Halloween decoration and Santa is suddenly Krampus, his sack filled with stress and fighting family members. Deep breaths, deep breaths. This season, be ready. Here are ten ideas to stop the stress before it even starts.  


Plan a vacation.  

There’s nothing like a weekend getaway to focus on to help get you through a difficult and stressful time. Think of it like a focal point, schedule something relaxing in January and fix it between the navigational beacons. You’ll slip right past the stress towards your vacation.  


Don’t think about the negatives.  

Easier said than done, amiright? But in this case, it’s important not to dwell on the things that went wrong last year or how you felt and instead approach this season with a sense of a clean slate. Use cognitive behavioral therapy techniques to control those negative thoughts. Things like, revising your negative thoughts into positive ones, looking for positive things to intentionally think about, and visualizing the best parts of your day.  


Don’t commit 

We all do it—we say yes to one thing and as we open our calendar to put this one thing in, we blink and suddenly it’s forty things and maybe we should have thought about some kind of color-coding strategy. This season, start out right. Don’t commit. Not when someone asks. Say something like “That sounds really great, but I need to check my calendar at home before I can commit to anything.” This buys you time to really consider whether this is something you want to do or whether this is something you were feeling pressured to do.  


Schedule self-care.  

Take some time and set it aside for you. That could mean a massage. It could mean a long hike. But in the name of self-care, make sure it’s quiet, no one can find you, and you don’t have access to your phone. If you’re feeling super stressed, setting a date for yourself to do this once a week throughout the holiday’s will go a long way to reset your stress levels.  


Eat before coffee 

There is nothing worse than that day where you wake up anxious, drink a pot of coffee on an empty stomach and suddenly realize your heart has transformed into a small, winged creature stuck in your chest. The cure has suddenly become the sickness. During this stressful season, pre-empt these days with a small breakfast. Nut butter toast is a favorite way to settle an anxious stomach and give the coffee something to stick to without a lot of heavy calories. Plus, the good fats will also go a long way to help your mood.  


Indulge in something spicy 

Normally the holidays are filled with an endless buffet of American Holiday Food, where everything is prepared to sedate you into a stupor. On those nights where you would rather stab someone with beaters than eat leftover mashed potatoes or, god forbid, cook something, order something spicy. Spicy food is shown to increase our endorphins, which contain a lot of our feel-good hormones.  


Ask for help 

No one gets an award for doing everything the hard way. Asking for help is easier said than done, but once you start it gets easier. Some tips for asking and getting actual results: ask in person. People can ignore emails and texts, or assume someone else has answered. Ask in person. Ask for something specific. “I would appreciate it so much if you could handle (specific detailed thing). Thank you so much for being someone I can depend on.” People love to feel needed and trusted.   


Critically evaluate your customs 

The holidays are a perfect time to look around and think, “What do I actually want my life to look like?” And if what you have in front of you isn’t it, do something different. No one says you have to set up Aunt Karen’s 45-piece nativity just because that’s what Karen did for thirty years before giving it to you. Let go of the pressure of other people’s expectations and think about what you want your life to look like. Now is a good a time as any to make changes that reflect an intentional, thoughtful life.  


Cling to your routine 

On the other hand, your daily routine can be an anchor point through this season. Think of these things as small rituals. You preform them to remember you are still yourself and the rest of the this is temporary. Focusing on the rituals of daily tasks can carry you mentally through the stress and the noise.  


Photo by Cody Hughes @clhughes21