How to Have a Stress-Free Holiday

By the time you read this, the year’s extraordinarily short #holiday shopping season will be nearly over. If you haven’t completed your shopping by now, you’ll have to pay for overnight shipping or brave the last-minute crowds at an old-school retail store.

As the clock winds down, you may also have meals to prepare and gifts to wrap. You may need to do an airport run to help far-flung family members join in the fun. You may even need to fit all of these activities in around your work schedule.

That’s a lot of stress. But there are ways to defuse that stress and enjoy the holidays.

The first is to know when you’ve done enough. Striving to create the “perfect” holiday can drive you nuts. There may be a few “nice to haves” or traditions that you just can’t fit into the holiday plan this year — and that’s OK. The sun will rise and set without them.

If you’re short a gift, you can give cash, buy a gift card or sign your giftee up for a subscription service that periodically delivers coffee, tea or wine. There are also plenty of all-digital gift options that can help show you care instantaneously.

Take advantage of services that take some of the work off your hands. Retailers are only too happy to wrap that gift or assemble that piece of furniture. The local bakery can provide a pie, and you can ask guests to bring a side dish.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help when the big event arrives. A thoughtful guest will volunteer, of course, but many people may need reminding as they celebrate with family and friends. This is a great way to keep kids occupied ahead of a gift grab.

You can set deadlines on what you need to get done, but build in an hour or two of serenity to maintain your sanity. “Head outdoors for a refreshing change of scene,” Woman’s Day suggests. “Take a starlit nighttime stroll through your neighborhood to view the holiday lights.”

You don’t have to do it all — and even if you could, it wouldn’t add to your enjoyment of the holiday season or anyone else’s. Focus on the big picture and know when to “say when,” and you’ll be able to create warm holiday memories without the stress.

Start Prepping for the Holidays Now

There’s no time like the present to begin preparations for the holidays. With incredibly busy schedules and so many things to make and do before Thanksgiving and Christmas, things can get hectic fast. So, take a cue from the advertisers and start the season now! Not only will you ensure a happy holiday season, you’ll do it with less stress.

Preparation is key. Make lists of the people you plan to buy for, and any ideas you might have for gifts. Unpack those holiday decorations and replace the burnt-out bulbs and dog-eared decorations. If you want to do any DIY decoration projects, bake cookies or make homemade gifts, now’s the time to start.

If money is an issue (and when isn’t it?), make a budget for the holidays to avoid cost overruns and credit-card debt. You don’t want to be paying for holiday 2017 well into the 2020s! Start price-shopping for major gifts, staple food items that keep well in the freezer or pantry, greeting cards and more. If you see a great deal, snap it up — and check that item off your list.

It’s still early enough in the season to get great deals on decorations, candles, sweaters and other festive holiday essentials at the local thrift store — many of which are supplied by generous donations to When you donate your secondhand goods or shop, the proceeds help fund veterans’ programs nationwide.

Popular Mechanics advises to check appliances that will see heavy use during the holidays, such as the refrigerator, vacuum cleaner and dishwasher. Also be sure to sharpen your knives before carving the turkey, stock up on firewood and take safety precautions to make your home warm and inviting, the story says.

If you plan on hosting a party, get the invitations out early, says The Family Room. Make a list of the things you want to serve and assign tasks to the fellow hosts under your roof. Also, be clear about what kind of party it is and what’s expected of guests: Is it a potluck? Gift exchange? Cocktail or dinner party? Are plus-ones, kids and pets invited?

Most importantly, don’t overschedule, says the HuffPost blog. You’ll only wear yourself out and risk getting sick in the critical pre-holiday moments, or look back to discover that the holidays brought you more hassles than happiness.

“Schedule ‘You’ days to relax and regain energy,” the blog says. “Make appointments with yourself for personal time, workouts or going for a walk; napping, reading, [a] bubble bath or a pedicure. Because you, too, want to be at your best during the holidays and enjoy the festivities, instead of sitting exhausted and grumpy at the dinner table.”

Take the Stress Out of the Spring Feast

Passover begins at sundown, and Easter is on Sunday. No matter what your faith, though, preparing a spring feast for the family can be hectic. To avoid at least some of the stress, delegate and conquer! Make it a potluck by taking on only the menu essentials and assigning the side dishes and desserts to various family members. Get the kids to set the table ahead of the feast. Then, relax (somewhat) and enjoy.

Benefit from a Boxing Week

Yesterday was Boxing Day, a holiday observed in Great Britain since the Middle Ages that rewarded servants and employees who couldn’t celebrate Christmas on the 25th of the month with a box of presents, food, money or another appreciation for their service. The tradition likely arose in the early Christian era, when churches used alms boxes to collect special offerings for the feast of St. Stephen, typically celebrated on Dec. 26.

People in former British colonies such as Canada and Australia see Boxing Day as a shopping holiday similar to Black Friday, and in the United States, savvy consumers can take advantage of the first post-holiday markdowns. Others, however, use the day simply to relax after a busy holiday season or observe Boxing Day in the most literal way: by boxing up holiday decorations for storage and unwanted gifts to return to stores.

As you recover from the holiday hubbub, VVA suggests that you observe Boxing Day all week long. When you take down the tree and pack up your holiday decorations, check to see if there are any extra ornaments or other seasonal items that you no longer need. When you bag up items of clothing that just aren’t your style or size for return, make up another bag of lightly-used items for donation. Then call to schedule a pickup.

The proceeds from your donations will support programs that help clothe, feed and house veterans nationwide — a great way to show appreciation for people who have dedicated their lives in service to their country, similar to Boxing Day’s original intent. And your home will return to its everyday state with that little bit of additional space you made by bagging, boxing and getting rid of the stuff you just don’t need.

Clutter can make people “crazy, ” according to Cleveland Clinic psychologist Scott Bea, by leading to chronic distraction, stress and depression. So if you really want to relax after the holidays, start by clearing out a few things you no longer need or want. You may find that establishing a Boxing Week tradition now will supply you with good cheer all year long.

Get Organized Before Santa Arrives

Christmas is now only a few days away, and whether you’re responsible for cooking, giving, hosting, entertaining or all of the above, you probably still have a lot of chores to do. You want your holiday to go off without a hitch, and there’s not much time left to make sure everything is “just so.”

You’ve cleaned and decluttered the house, and maybe even donated some of your unused clothing and other stuff to You’ve decorated the tree and lit the lights. You’ve sent the holiday cards and party invites. You’ve even decided what you’ll serve at the holiday feast, but you still may feel a little bit frazzled by the final countdown.

Get Packing

The final week of the holiday season has any number of deadlines to observe. Dec. 21 is the last day to drop Priority Mail packages off at the post office so that they might arrive by Christmas; Amazon Prime subscribers have an extra day to shop and take advantage of free two-day shipping. Wait, and you’ll pay a premium to get your packages in time for the weekend.

Three days ahead, Real Simple advises in its comprehensive holiday checklist, those hosting a holiday dinner can buy any fresh ingredients needed and set the holiday table. Two days out, you can start cooking. Many dishes actually improve in the refrigerator overnight, and making them ahead of time will cut the stress on the crucial day-of.

On the final day before the holiday, charge up any camcorders or cameras you’ll use to record the good cheer, and buy extra batteries for all the little gadgets people are going to unwrap. Polish off your cooking preparations, and create a timeline for whatever has to go in the oven on the feast day itself.

Do any last-minute gift-wrapping that needs to be done, and give the house a quick once-over for the weekend ahead. And finally, take the time to do whatever it is you like to do to relax before the big day.

You may not be able to do everything on your list, but you can do enough to make the holiday a success if you start now. As Clean & Scentsible blogger Jenn Lifford says, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Things can (and will) go wrong, but you can leave less to chance by getting organized.

Have a Happy & Healthy Holiday!