Certain holiday stressors are unavoidable (hello, epic lines at the mall)—but how you approach them is in your control. Use this helpful guide to feel less angst and more peace, all month long.

Banish Chaos with Tiny Tweaks

Be realistic. Treat yourself kindly. Prioritize sleep. You got this.

Make a New List

You could probably fill pages with all your usual holiday to-dos, from baking Grandma’s peanut butter snowballs to mailing cards to, oh, everyone you’ve ever known. This year, try whittling that list down to your must-dos—the stuff that actually matters to you. Cut anything that isn’t essential, and be brutal (even Gram’s cookies may not make it). Once you free yourself from less important obligations and your own sky-high expectations, you can focus on the handful of rituals and tasks you really care about (like taking your niece to The Nutcracker or making a photo album for your oldest friend).

RELATED: 3 Common Anxiety Traps and How to Avoid Them

Get Your Rest

It’s tempting to RSVP to every potluck and cocktail hour. Declining an invite can make you feel a little like the Grinch. But try to think of staying in and curling up in your pj’s as a dose of preventive medicine. We know that logging sufficient sleep helps your body keep up its defenses: Research published in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed that people who slept at least eight hours a night were about three times less likely to catch a cold virus than those who slept for less Rise and Sweat Try to get your workout in first thing, before the demands of the day pile up. You’ll be more likely to stick with your routine if you’re exercising in the morning (research backs that up!). And an early run or gym sesh can set you up for healthier behavior all day: A study in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that women who worked out in the morning moved more throughout the rest of the day. That’s not all: Scans revealed that their brains responded less to images of tempting foods, compared with days when they didn’t exercise in the a.m. The upshot: Break a sweat early, and your cravings won’t be quite so intense. Do What You Can So what if you can’t make it to spin class—or pound out your usual mileage on the treadmill? Any exercise counts. “Even just 15 minutes can help you maintain your fitness level,” says Tim Church, MD, a professor of preventative medicine at Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University. Look up a short HIIT workout video online. Or pick up the jump rope in than seven. String together too many evenings out, and you may wear yourself down. No white-elephant gift is worth a case of the sniffles, or worse.

RELATED: 16 Pampering Gifts for a Friend in Need of Self-Care

Let Go of the Past

Be honest with yourself: Are you trying to re-create the rose-tinted memories of your childhood holidays? Rigidly sticking to family traditions is just another form of perfectionism, especially if your clan has outgrown them. Before you get carried away this year, try this trick from Alice Boyes, PhD, author of The Healthy Mind Toolkit: List your annual rituals, and ask your family members to rank them from most fun to least. You can even make it a game: “Toss everyone’s answers in a hat, and guess each other’s favorites,” she suggests. You might be surprised by the results. (Who knew your littlest was such a fan of midnight mass?) Keep the winners, retire the rest, and you’ll free up some space for new traditions (James Bond marathon, anyone?).

Take a Moment to Reflect

The holiday season means different things to different people. For some, it’s about religious observance; for others, it’s about food-centric traditions or just quality time with family. Every day, maybe when you wake up, spend a minute or two thinking about what the season means to you. This daily exercise will help you stay centered during the month’s more trying moments (like when you’re hunting for a parking spot at the shopping center) and remind you to keep your priorities straight: your loved ones, your happiness, and your health.

RELATED: 25 Surprising Ways Stress Affects Your Health

Stay Active

Moving your body may be the No. 1 form of self-care this season. Here’s how to squeeze in a bit of exercise, to feel a whole lot better.

Rise and Sweat

Try to get your workout in first thing, before the demands of the day pile up. You’ll be more likely to stick with your routine if you’re exercising in the morning (research backs that up!). And an early run or gym sesh can set you up for healthier behavior all day: A study in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that women who worked out in the morning moved more throughout the rest of the day. That’s not all: Scans revealed that their brains responded less to images of tempting foods, compared with days when they didn’t exercise in the a.m. The upshot: Break a sweat early, and your cravings won’t be quite so intense.

RELATED: 7 Easy Ways to Manage Stress

Do What You Can

So what if you can’t make it to spin class—or pound out your usual mileage on the treadmill? Any exercise counts. “Even just 15 minutes can help you maintain your fitness level,” says Tim Church, MD, a professor of preventative medicine at Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University. Look up a short HIIT workout video online. Or pick up the jump rope in your garage; 15 minutes of jumping can torch nearly 200 calories.

Bundle Up

Grab your hat and gloves, and head outside for a stroll at least once a day. Taking regular walks is a potent form of “feel-good” therapy. For starters, you’re out in the sunlight (remember that stuff?), which is thought to boost the brain’s levels of serotonin, a.k.a. the happiness hormone. Plus, you get a dose of stress-busting exercise, even if you never leave the neighborhood. A study published in 2017 found that a little light-intensity activity—such as leisurely walking—was enough to lower feelings of depression and boost overall wellbeing. So go ahead and sneak out the door. Those 27 presents that need wrapping? They’ll still be there when you get back.

RELATED: 17 Surprising Reasons You're Stressed Out

TRINETTE REED/STOCKSY.COM

Eat and Drink Mindfully

Heading to a party and obsessing over whether or not you should indulge in all the good food? So not worth your time. These tips will help you savor the season while still respecting your body’s cues.

Carry a Pack of Gum

We’d never suggest you pass up a tasty holiday buffet—but if you’re tired of food hangovers after too many nights out, consider this party hack: Pop a piece of gum in your mouth 15 minutes before you grab a plate. “Chewing gum tricks your brain into thinking you’re eating, so you actually eat less,” says Susan Albers, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and author of Eating Mindfully. Downing a mint in between helpings can be useful too: “It gives your body time to get a read on whether you are full or not,” Albers says. “Make a deal with yourself that you can have seconds if you’re still hungry by the time the mint dissolves in your mouth.”

RELATED: How to Drink Mindfully

Alternate Cocktails and Water

Before you arrive at a fete, decide how many drinks you’re going to have. (We recommend sticking with just one or two.) Then after each champagne or pomegranate martini, sip a glass of water or seltzer with a twist. This pattern will help you stay hydrated, so you can avoid a throbbing headache tomorrow. And make sure you snack on some apps before you hit the bar: “If we don’t eat before we drink, that can throw off blood sugar,” says Steven Feinleib, MD, a staff physician in preventive medicine at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio; this can cause weariness the next day.

Don’t Be Too Rigid

Setting multiple rules for yourself at a party (No cake! No puff pastry! No eggnog!) can backfire, and suck all the joy out of the occasion. Instead, try celebrity trainer Gunnar Peterson’s trick: “I zero in on a single healthy practice,” he says. “It can be anything from not drinking alcohol to skipping the passed appetizers or desserts. If you give yourself one thing, you’re likely to stick with it.”

To get our top stories delivered to your inbox, sign up for the Healthy Living newsletter

Advertisement