Are holiday traditions, parties, volunteer commitments and shopping turning you into a frenzied ringmaster of a runaway circus train? For your sanity and for your health, put the brakes on the holiday rush. Here's how.

  1. Make a "Not-to-Do" List. Consciously leave a few activities off the program this year. Ellie Griffin, a feminine vitality coach, says this is one of her favorite ways to reduce holiday stress. "I love having my clients do this exercise because it makes them realize how much of what they do doesn't have an effect on the big picture of their lives," she says.
  2. End a tradition. Let go of rituals that are more work than fun or are no longer meaningful. Attempting to turn the holiday season into the greatest show on earth could put your health at risk. According to the American Psychological Association, chronic stress can weaken your immune system, making it harder to recover from illness, and can cause heart disease, obesity and depression.
  3. Catch your zzzs. You perform better when you're well rested. Strive for seven to eight hours of sleep, which can help you cope better with stress. "Poor sleep habits keep you jittery, irritable and feeling like you're just dragging yourself around," says Rosalie Moscoe, author of "Frazzled, Hurried Woman! Your Stress Relief Guide to Thriving...Not Merely Surviving."
  4. Choreograph the chaos. Organize your shopping trips. Ask for help from your significant other. When possible, buy gifts whenever you're already out running errands. Make shipping presents a breeze by purchasing some online. After pounding the pavement, reward yourself with dinner out, pizza delivery or a glass of wine by a cozy fire.
  5. Clown around. Try not to schedule every free moment during the holiday rush. "By pursuing pleasure in her life, a woman can not only enjoy a more fulfilling life, but in the process can increase production of oxytocin, a hormone crucial to lowering stress hormones," Griffin says. Go through your calendar and block out 15 to 30 minutes each day to do something just for your personal enjoyment, like a manicure, lunch with a friend, yoga, a nap or reading a book.
  6. Juggle less. Planning, cooking, cleaning and entertaining can test even the most talented acrobat. Host a light-hearted appetizer party instead of a serious dinner soiree. Choose menu items that can be prepared ahead of time or have the event catered to make it easier for you to enjoy the festivities along with your guests.
  7. Rely on your safety net. "Ask for help! Get your family to help with cleaning up at home. Or, if you can, hire a cleaning person," Moscoe says. "Take a break, be kind to yourself. There will always be something to finish - that's life!" For casual parties, prepare the main dish and ask your friends if they can bring side items or desserts.
  8. Revel in the moment. Duck out of the buzzing fluorescent lights and long lines. Take an evening stroll to breathe in the cool December air and admire the holiday lights illuminating the streets. Allow the movement to calm your mind without further stressing your body.
  9. Feed yourself right. Hunger and exhaustion can bring out the tiger in anyone. Eat wholesome, good-mood foods with protein for energy. "Don't bring extra cookies or chocolate into the house in advance of the holidays," Moscoe says. "This will make you cranky, tired and cause fluctuations in blood sugar."
  10. Plan for surprises. Keep tricks up your sleeve for managing those last-minute gift exchanges. While running errands, purchase small gifts that you can stash. And go ahead and store those extra cookies in the freezer for drop-in visitors.
  11. Simplify decor. If holiday decor makes you sweat, swap time-consuming and expensive lights and ornaments for homemade decorations. Try making luminaries with your kids. Draw a star or tree on a lunch-size paper bag. Punch holes into the design and fill the bag with sand. Place battery-charged tea lights inside the bags and line them up on your porch or driveway.
  12. Focus on the magic. Carefully consider what makes the holidays special for you and your family. Ask your kids, too. Their answers may surprise you. Perhaps they'd like to try building gingerbread houses this year or want to spend a toasty evening in their pajamas drinking hot chocolate and watching seasonal movies.

Most of all, resolve to bring your holidays from over the big top to just right for you. Even one small change can make all the difference between anxiously counting the days until the show is over to living in the moment, while celebrating more peace and joy with your family this season.


Freelance journalist Christa Melnyk Hines is the author of "Confidently Connected: A Mom's Guide to a Satisfying Social Life." Her circus includes her strongman husband, two children who love to clown around and a pair of entertaining mutts.