If you're like most of us, December is a month of rushing around to shop, bake, plan, and attend parties. We finish the year tired, annoyed, sluggish, and bloated. Not ideal, but considering how many unavoidable personal and professional obligations we tend to have this time of year, avoiding that end-of-year "meh" feeling can seem impossible.
Since I know that feeling quite well myself, I've come up with sneaky little ways to minimize your holiday stress and take time to actually enjoy the season, and the people you love. After all, that is the point, right?
1. Forget the holiday cards.
Yep, I said it. Forget buying, writing, or mailing them. Skip it! Some people can’t get their heads around this. But if you think of the time, cost, and environmental impact of the card tradition, it starts to seem like an obvious obligation to dump. Instead, send an online card. You can make a beautiful, thoughtful card in an hour or so, and send it to everyone you want in a tenth (or less) of the time it would've taken to send them the old-fashioned way.
2. Nix expensive family portraits.
Smartphone cameras today take pictures that rival professional ones. Instead of having a fancy photographer take your family portrait, have a friend take a family photo. Since it's free, you have the freedom to get creative, festive, and funny. You can send your favorite pic or send several!
3. Try the one-present policy.
We enacted this rule years ago to much success. When kids have only one gift to choose, they think hard about it. Imagine the savings of money, time, and energy if you adopt this policy.
4. Exchange peace of mind — not stuff.
For spouses and partners — a wonderful way to simplify the holidays even more is to decide to not exchange gifts at all. Instead, agree to spend special time together after the holiday season. Try a couples massage, a weekend away, or shared sessions with a personal trainer.
5. Skip the invitations.
Instead of accepting every holiday invitation you receive, politely decline all but the most important ones with the people who mean most to you. Quality is more important than quantity.
6. Don’t try to save the entire planet with donations. And don't feel guilty because you can't.
During the holidays, charities go full force collecting money or other donations. Don’t feel you have to be involved with every good cause out there. Choose the one or two causes that resonate the most and get as generous as you like. Like holiday parties, it's better to give your best to a few people than disperse the dregs to everyone.
If you host big holiday dinners, get your guests to contribute different parts of the meal. This is no time to be superwoman or superman. Don’t be shy. Ask for help. If you are a guest, bring a contribution. If your children are old enough, have them help you decorate for the holidays. Assign holiday tasks to each member of the family. Maybe post them on the fridge or write them on a chalkboard.
8. Downsize your decorations.
It shouldn’t take you more than two or three hours to put up decorations and another two or three to take them down and store them (at the most). If it takes longer, start simplifying! I have a friend who leaves her decorations up until February or March because it takes her so long to take them down. While you're tossing out the excess, take a box or two to your local donation center.
9. Commit to clean eating.
Sure, the holidays are a time to indulge in special food traditions and eating in general. Make sure to indulge when you want to. Just keep it moderate, and make sure to include lots of vegetables, fruits, and unpackaged foods. Your waistline, your mood, and your energy level will all be positively affected!
10. Limit alcohol consumption.
Champagne, wine, egg nog — the holidays are riddled with celebrations, and that almost always means alcohol. If you can minimize alcohol intake during this period, it'll help you keep sleep patterns regular, mood positive, and energy level high! Who wants to go through the holidays hung over? Yuck.
11. Get out!
Make sure that every day (whether or not you have the day off), you get outside and at least take a walk or run, or get to the gym — even if it’s a different hour or class than you are used to. If you’re stuck indoors, get on YouTube and find a 15- to 20-minute fitness video you can do as soon as you wake up! Just move.
12. Create a festive capsule wardrobe.
Have one great dress (or other festive outfit) for the holidays and wear it to all your parties and celebrations. Changing your accessories and shoes, your hair, makeup, nail polish, and jewelry will make it seem like a whole new outfit. Basta!
Take the time to reflect on the ending year. What were the highlights? What did you accomplish? What would you like to improve for the coming year? What have you learned? Think about more than just how you’re going to hit your sales quota or how you’re going to style your hair for the office party. It will make your time off more meaningful.
14. Let go of perfection.
Forget scrubbing the house from top to bottom in preparation for the holidays. Do presents really need to be wrapped à la GOOP when your kids are going to tear them to shreds in seconds flat? Let go: No one will judge you. Stop caring what others think of you (this goes for the whole year).
15. Get spiritual.
Whether or not you are religious, take some time out during the holidays to pray, meditate, and find stillness in nature. Is there anything more spiritual than a snow-covered mountain on a quiet winter morning? Focusing on the bigger picture and connecting with nature are certain to bring some inner peace during a busy month.
16. Find reasons to be grateful.
Violent world events are a poignant reminder that life is precious and fleeting. Gratitude for everything from our families and loved ones to the little luxuries, such as delicious coffee, a great book, or a fabulous yoga teacher, is the true heart of the holiday spirit.
Decluttering your home can make you feel lighter, accomplished, energized. The holidays is no time to start a massive decluttering campaign (save that for January!), but while you are taking out decorations, digging around for holiday wrapping paper, and searching for the holiday table linens, keep an eye out for items you never use. Put them in a bag and drop them off at the local donation center during your next errand run. It will make the rest of your holiday less stressful and give you a head start on post-holiday cleanup.
18. Up your soup intake.
Copy the French and alternate days of indulgence and rich food with days of vegetable soups and loads of water. Go ahead and have your cake, but the following day try a delicious, nutrient-dense soup like this one.
19. Think about yourself when you cook.
Some people bake nonstop for weeks (or months!) before the holidays. Instead of baking around the clock, why not spend that time preparing healthier meals that you can freeze in the weeks leading up to the holidays? Then, when you need a quick meal, you can defrost one at a moment’s notice! You can still make your famous apple pie. Just spend more time investing in food that's going to be satisfying and nourishing to you rather than the food you think other people want or expect.
20. Don't stay out late any time you don't want to.
Heck, why not head home early from the office Christmas party, for Christmas Eve, and New Year’s Eve? You do not have to stay up late watching reruns of your favorite holiday movies or watch the ball drop. You can just as well enjoy an afternoon movie during your vacation and still get that much-needed full night's sleep.
21. Reconnect with loved ones.
Send a personal email or text message to a handful of people you have been thinking about recently and have not been in touch with. You (and they) will feel so happy to reconnect. Don’t feel like you have to update them on the last five years of your life. Just “writing to say hello and tell you I’m thinking about you” will do the job! This is especially relevant to older relatives who might be living on their own or feel “forgotten” by the younger generations. You can change their holiday with just a quick phone call.
22. Show gratitude to the people you see every day.
If someone is in your daily sphere, send a quick message, or tell them in person that you appreciate them. Even if they aren’t close to you, your child’s teacher, your tennis coach, or a grocery store clerk will enjoy being told they are appreciated.
23. Resolve to be good to yourself.
Instead of writing down a few cliché, overblown resolutions (quick weight loss or other unattainable goals, for example), try resolving to be good to yourself in the new year. Feed yourself healthy food often, move often, and take time to relax every day for at least a few minutes. Realistic, moderate habits will change your life drastically compared to outrageous resolutions that will likely be discarded in a matter of weeks.
24. Show your love.
When it comes down to it, is there anything more important in life than spending time with loved ones? Keeping this in perspective will help all of the above happen more naturally. When you focus on the essential, everything else (expectations, duties, and obligations) starts to dissolve on its own.
Rebeca Plantier is a journalist and author of French School Lunch, a two-year research project on France’s public school lunch program promoting health and wellbeing in children. She writes about about healthy living, travel, parenting and the French lifestyle—and her work has appeared on various sites, such as Huffington Post, Business Insider, Salon, EatLocalGrown, travel site Matador Network and many others. Find her at rebecaplantier.com.