It is that time of year again…the holiday season is upon us. It is supposed to be a joyous time, but all too often, you can end up stressed out and easily forget the reason the holidays are supposed to be special. How do you manage the stress? Why does it seem like the holidays come earlier every year and prolong your stress?

Every year, it seems that the holidays come earlier and earlier. One of the reasons that it feels this way is because stores are putting up decorations and signage well in advance of the actual holiday that they are advertising for. For instance, a large superstore chain has had Christmas decorations up and items for sale in their garden center since the middle of September.

This brings the stress of the upcoming holidays front and center much sooner than it used to. With the holidays being advertised so early, it gets us thinking about all of the different things that we need to buy, such as food, decorations, and gifts.

Retailers often make it feel like you need to buy the latest and greatest items in order to have the “best” holiday. This thought process can lead to many people going into debt after the holiday season, and knowing this financial burden is going to take place leaves many people feeling stressed during the holiday season.

During the holidays, we tend to have unrealistic expectations of what we expect to happen. This is particularly true in regards to what we need to get done and over-committing ourselves to partake in numerous holiday activities to the point that our time is spread so thin that it makes all of the events less enjoyable.

Part of this can be spending too much time together with loved ones. The holidays are the time of year when we spend the most time with family and friends, especially those we might not see on a regular basis. It can be hard to balance having enough bonding time and alone time. Typically when people get together, everyone has their “role,” and often, this is not based on who they currently are, but who they used to be. This discrepancy can be stressful. On the other end of the spectrum, you have people who don’t have families and are alone, so they are lonely and become stressed by that.

Another contributing factor to the holiday stress is overindulging in food and drinks and the consequences that come after have impacts long after the season is over, such as weight gain or memories of embarrassing behavior. With all of these different factors, it is no wonder that we are stressed out during the holiday season.

What can we do to help manage and eliminate some of the stress?

There is good news when it comes to the stress that comes with the holidays, it is predictable. We know that the holidays are coming every year at the same time, so we can get mentally prepared for them before the season starts. There are steps you can take to help reduce stress.

Remember, the best gifts aren’t usually the most expensive or latest gadget, but those that are thoughtful and special to the person that is receiving it. If you make something homemade, people appreciate the time and effort that goes into a handcrafted gift.

It’s important to set priorities and decide which activities you want to participate in versus those that aren’t as important. One way to do this is to select the ones that will have the most positive impact and choose to go to those events. Another way to alleviate stress is to take shortcuts by doing activities, but not on a grand scale. Finding a way to simplify things will allow you to completely focus on an activity and actually enjoy it. If you set a schedule, you will be able to see if your plans are realistic. It’s essential to be accurate, include driving time and downtime, and list high-priority events first.

It’s important to be aware of your own limitations regarding togetherness. This will help you to change your expectations of not only yourself but others. The essential thing to find is the balance between what is special and what adds joy to your holiday experience without leaving you feeling drained and tired.

If you are alone during the holidays, reach out to friends or consider having a group of friends in similar situations to your home to celebrate the holidays together. Another option is to volunteer to help those who are less fortunate; giving back can not only make a difference but can leave you fulfilled as well.

Remember not to overindulge in holiday eating. It’s important to be aware of not only your triggers that increase your chances of overeating but to know exactly how much food and drinks you are actually consuming. If you can, have some healthy food on hand for each meal, or remember to have a healthy snack prior to going to an event where you know there will be an abundance of food that might not be the healthiest.

Unfortunately, we will not be able to change when stores start their holiday marketing campaigns, but we can control how we let it impact our lives. The holiday season does not have to be hectic and stressful. If you manage your expectations and time while setting realistic goals, you will definitely get more enjoyment out of the holiday season.