From the Magazine

Curb Stress Over Your Holiday To-Do List With These 6 Easy Tips

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The holiday hubbub ratchets up stress for nearly 90 percent of us — but you don’t have to suffer through the “most wonderful time of the year!” Here, psychiatrist and Thriving As an Empath ($17.49, Amazon) author Judith Orloff, M.D., stress expert and Be Happy Without Being Perfect ($11.06, Amazon) author Alice Domar, Ph.D., and time-management expert and Off the Clock ($15.99, Amazon) author Laura Vanderkam share ways to lighten your load and find your calm in the chaos. 

Focus on Your Core Values

If your to-do list looks more like an infinity scroll, center yourself by pinpointing your most deeply-held values, suggests UCLA Psychiatric clinical faculty member Dr. Orloff. When we ask ourselves what’s truly important to us, our anxiety plummets, because we’re focusing on our core identity. 

She explains: “Instead of worrying about getting everything done just so, your mindset shifts to gratitude, as you remind yourself, ‘I value having family around me this time of year.’” That small change can begin to take the pressure off.

Change Your Mindset

Prioritizing what you love most about the holidays not only tames tension, it helps you bond with your family, promises Domar, who serves as the executive director of the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health. “Just survey loved ones, asking what their favorite part of the season is,” she suggests. “You may be surprised that it’s often the simple stuff, like watching holiday movies together. Transforming your list of must-do’s into want-to-do’s lets you create new rituals and make sweeter memories.”

Gift —and Repeat

Are you getting a headache deliberating over the perfect gifts? To streamline the present-picking process, consider coming up with the same go-to gift for several people on your list, urges Vanderkam. “Select one item that’s special to you,” she says. “It could be anything from a book by a favorite author to an ornament from a cause you support. People appreciate presents with stories, and if it’s special to the giver, it’ll be special to the recipient.”

Spark Your Inner Joy

You don’t need a holiday miracle to make meaningful time for yourself during this hectic season. “It takes mere minutes to cue the rest and relaxation response,” Domar explains, noting that we can tame anxiety even when we’re on-the-go. 

For example, when you hop in your car on the way to the mall, ask yourself, “What can I do for myself during this drive?” “Maybe you can grab a latte or listen to a favorite podcast,” Domar suggests. These mini pick-me-ups are like sprinklings of surprise for your brain, and exposure to novelty dials down tension fast.

Embrace Your Crew

Strong social support buoys our mood significantly, and this is especially true in the middle of the holiday fray, notes Domar, who encourages asking for a helping hand. “One of the biggest misconceptions women have is that they must do everything themselves,” she observes. “Don’t be afraid to reach out to loved ones. They want to help, and when we let them, we all feel more deeply connected.”

Embrace Your Nostalgia

Trying to live up to an unrealistic standard can feel like a stress-boulder is perched on our shoulders. To shrug off that perfectionistic pressure, think about imperfect holidays past, urges Domar. “The times when everything goes according to script rarely spark the best memories — rather, it’s quirky moments that bring us closer, like when you burned the turkey and had to order Chinese food and everyone laughed about it.” 

Taking a nostalgic trip down holiday lane allows you to define what “perfect” means to you.

This story originally appeared in our print magazine. 

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