The holiday season has arrived, and we have started gathering around cornucopias, decking the halls, lighting candles, singing hymns and opening presents.

When you think of words to describe the holiday season, what comes to mind? Joy, festive, thankful, peace and love? Or do you think of words like stress, exhaustion, strife and family drama?

The holiday season often brings mixed emotions to many people and families each year. Feeling anxious or depressed around the holiday season is not uncommon. Life changes like the loss of a loved one, a divorce, or even living far from those we love can cause the holiday season to be confusing and stressful.

Here are some tools that might be helpful in building a happy, less stressful holiday season.

Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is simply being aware of the present moment. What do you see, feel, hear, smell and taste? The holiday season is full of sensory experiences that can be helpful when practicing mindfulness. Try this short mindfulness exercise to help focus your mind and relieve stress. Remember to take deep breaths throughout the exercise. (You can make the exercise even more fun by noticing things that are specific to the season or holiday.)

Name 5 things you see.

Name 4 things you feel.

Name 3 things you hear.

Name 2 things you smell.

Name 1 thing you taste.

Keep a routine

Routines are easy to break during the holidays. Vacations are for rest and holidays are for celebrations, but they often have their own unique challenges. We still have needs and priorities, like doing laundry and walking the dog, that do not go away during the holidays. Look at your routine before a vacation or holiday and find what is important to you. Keeping a consistent bedtime and getting dressed every day can help keep the structure of your routine. If your morning coffee is important to you during the rest of the year, keep it a priority during the holidays. These simple guideposts can give your day structure and predictability during a sometimes unpredictable time.

Say ‘No’

We often feel obligated to see people or take part in traditions during the holiday season. While the holidays are often about giving, giving up our emotional, physical and even financial health should not be on our gift list. Setting boundaries during the holiday season can be hard and often misunderstood by our loved ones. Use calm, assertive communication when setting boundaries. One great way to practice assertive communication is to use “I messages.” (And no, not the one on your iPhone.)

Using an “I message” tells someone how you feel without placing judgement or blame. An “I message” also allows you an opportunity to tell others what you need and why you need it. Practicing what you are going to say before you say it can be helpful. Use these “I message” sentence starters to structure your conversation.

“I feel …”

“When …”

“Because …”

“I need …”

(For example: I feel angry and frustrated when we talk about politics because we have different views. I need to talk about something different this year.)

Have fun

What are your favorite things about the holidays? Do you like singing songs or being with family? Or, do you enjoy walking by yourself and listening to the fall leaves crunch under your feet? Do the things you enjoy with people who also enjoy doing those things.

If you have never enjoyed a hayride in the chilly weather, you probably aren’t going to enjoy it this year. Set yourself up for success by choosing to participate in activities you enjoy and politely declining activities you know drain your energy and cause unneeded stress. Take at least 5 minutes each day to do something you enjoy. It can be reading a book or sitting by the fire, as long as it brings you joy.

With the holidays inching closer, remember to take care of you. Be mindful, keep a routine, set boundaries, and have fun. Hopefully you will more than just survive the holiday season. You will thrive.

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