By Sarah Wall

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… isn’t it? The Christmas season is certainly full of joy, love, and wonder. This time of year means wreaths tied with ribbon on the front door, warm vanilla sugar wafting through the house, and carolers singing in holiday markets.

But just as readily, this season might call to mind dashing through the stores, hunting barren shelves for that perfect gift for your pickiest child. Perhaps it elicits memories of the doorbell ringing when you’re not halfway through cooking Christmas dinner or staring at credit card statements and wondering how you’ll afford to make Christmas magical.

The holiday season may indeed be full of joy and love, but it can also radiate hardship and anxiety. To manage the pressures and stressors that come along this time of year, take some time to develop strategies that prioritize your sense of peace so you can more fully appreciate the magic of Christmas.

Decide Your Limits, and Say “No Thanks” to the Rest

No other time of year makes it more challenging to maintain our wellness habits. All of us have strategies to decompress at the end of the day, whether it’s an episode of a favorite show, a good book over a cup of tea, or an evening walk. But between volunteering with your children’s Christmas pageants, attending holiday happy hours with co-workers, working on the stack of Christmas cards, and more, the holidays leave little time to prioritize a few moments of peace, which can leave us frazzled and exhausted.

To combat this reality, set a goal for how many planned activities you can commit to on a weekly basis – for instance, one weekday event and two on the weekend. Then, take a few minutes to gather your invitations, obligations, and preferences, and determine which are the priority and to which you can comfortably RSVP “no, thanks.” With this practice, you can guard against burnout and help maintain your sense of well-being despite the frenzy of the season.

Be Mindful of Eating and Drinking Habits

The physical, mental, and emotional connection between the foods we eat and how we feel is undeniable. The savory hors d’oeuvres and sugary sweets everywhere at Christmastime undoubtedly contribute to our feelings of tension and strain.

To manage the indulgences that often leave us feeling fatigued and bloated, intentionality is key. It’s often more difficult to set limits in social situations, so set them beforehand and savor what you do decide to eat and drink. Somewhat paradoxically, fasting all day in preparation for an evening party can make over-indulgence more likely, because showing up famished in front of all that food makes it more difficult to stick to your predetermined limits. Thus, eat healthy breakfasts and lunches with lean proteins and healthy fats, such as eggs, chicken breast, nuts, and quinoa. Getting out for a walk in the cold, fresh air can also help alleviate the feelings of bloat and lethargy, so take the opportunity to walk around the neighborhood and admire the Christmas lights. And when you over-indulge, don’t be hard on yourself because that will only worsen your feelings of stress – there’s always January for a diet reset!

Swap Expensive Gifts and Outings with Simpler Enjoyment

The holidays are at baseline, a very expensive time of year, but with inflation at historic highs, many of us find ourselves stretched especially thin this December. Particularly for those of us with children, the pressure to make this Christmas just as special as last year despite higher price tags can add new layers of anxiety and strain.

Try tackling these challenges with low-hanging fruit first: for instance, swap out a family outing to A Christmas Carol with a game of Monopoly instead, where the memories you’ll make together will be just as precious, if not more so. Instead of shopping for annual gift exchanges, break out your cookbook and make something special, like a smoky chili salt or a dessert like chocolate truffle squares. And if it’s necessary to cut back on Christmas gifts, use it as a learning opportunity for your children, teaching them what’s really valuable at Christmas and the importance of financial responsibility during every season.

Rediscovering the Christmas Magic

The stressors and strains that come around the holiday season are unavoidable, but by developing a few mitigation strategies beforehand, we can manage our responses and make them less apparent. With a little practice setting and sticking to limits that keep us healthy both emotionally and physically, we might rediscover a bit more of the magic that really does make the holiday season the most wonderful time of the year.