Many people I know don\’t find joy in the holidays. Too much stress and work. The chores of cooking, shopping and cleaning are often multiplied during the holidays, leaving you feeling put-upon and resentful. One year a friend had a tree trimming dinner party, and she wouldn\’t give her guests dessert until they hung ornaments on the tree. Not exactly behavior in the spirit of Christmas.

When it comes to holiday stress, forewarned is forearmed. If you plan ahead to prevent stress before it begins, you have a better chance of a happy holiday. So think about potential problems and how to mitigate them. Here are some strategies:

1)    Have realistic expectations. When my friend invited her guests to decorate her tree, she envisioned a perfect tree. She insisted every ornament had to go up, all the lights had to be perfectly spaced and the tinsel had to hang just so. She basically badgered her friends and was pretty crabby about the whole thing.  But what if she had lowered her expectations a little and demanded something less than perfection. And how about skipping the tinsel altogether? I bet her friends would have been absolutely fine with the less-than-ideal tree. She would have been too, if she\’d asked herself what\’s more important—perfection? Or a good time with friends?

2)    Preplan your conversations. I don\’t know why, when we never see certain family members all year long, suddenly we\’re supposed to have a great time with them on the holidays. There\’s a reason we don\’t see them except when we have to. Some people are just toxic and better avoided, but if you can\’t, think about how you can deal with them to make everyone\’s experience better. Avoid questions that might get them riled like, “How come you aren\’t married yet?” Instead, ask more neutral questions like, “How are things going?” Remember, you can\’t change them. You can only change how you interact with them.

3)    Take care of yourself. Get a good night\’s sleep, continue to eat a reasonably healthy diet, and don\’t give up your exercise because you\’re too busy. During the holidays, above all, you should keep to your yoga schedule or whatever you do to keep fit. Maybe even add a class or two. Physical exercise makes you feel better. Yoga, or a similar activity like Tai Chi, can be calming and stress-reducing. It\’s a good idea to know what activity is most beneficial to you before the holidays start. Then be sure to make time to engage in that activity when things become frenetic.

4)    Watch the alcohol. For you and for your guests, this is where a lot of people get tripped up. We want to be congenial—indeed, many gatherings are based on getting together to drink. What about the classic Christmas cocktail party? But too much alcohol can turn some people into belligerent jerks. If you are hosting an event, plan a short cocktail hour. Once I grossly miscalculated how long the turkey should cook. By the time it was ready, we were all in our cups, and some of us were behaving badly. It ruined the day.

5)    Be aware of symptoms of depression. Despite your planning, if you feel more blue than red and green, take stock. Be aware that headaches, excessive drinking, overeating or insomnia can be signs that you are not coping well. You may need to schedule some time for counseling among all your other chores. It can be tempting during a busy time to put this off, but don\’t. It will help you operate at your 100-percent best during the holidays.

When I asked a friend if he had any tips for a stress-free holiday, he said, “Yeah, don\’t put up any decorations, don\’t have people over, don\’t send Christmas cards.” But that\’s just no fun. The key, as it so often is, is to find balance. Know yourself. How much do you want to engage in to enjoy the holiday, and how much should you say “no” to so you can keep your peace of mind intact. Counseling can help you: How much is stimulating joy and how much is over-the-top stress? The answer is different for everyone.

Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional.  If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch.  You can reach her here: