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5 tips for avoiding holiday stress and over indulgence

Number one. Lower your expectations - especially if you are a perfectionist.

Lower the bar of perfection you may have set for yourself, and see if you can't enjoy the holidays as much – and perhaps even more -- when you don't try to live up to Martha Stewart standards. Just be yourself and do what feels healthy and good for you.

2) Be realistic in your holiday expectations.

The holidays can set us up for a fall. Everywhere in the media, in TV and radio ads, movies, and music, we are being given the message that 'it's the most wonderful time of the year'. But that's just not realistic for many people. Difficult situations like illness, job loss, and relationship break-ups happen at this time of year, and even if things are ‘normal’ in your life, the body doesn't know it's a holiday. The days are shorter and darker, and yet we are often demanding that the body do more, eat more, drink more -- and get less sleep. This is the opposite way animals in the natural world behave in winter and, for us humans, it’s a recipe for stress and sickness. Remember -- the happiness and joy we are supposed to feel in this season won't come through a credit card. It's not about what we buy -- it's actually about what we choose to ‘buy into’, so be sure to make self-caring decisions for yourself.

3) Do less. It's okay to take short cuts.

Try making a list of at least 3 things you can choose NOT to do this holiday season in order to give yourself the gift of some stillness, rest, and simplicity. Maybe you'll be able to find 5 or 10 things to put on that list. One pair of friends I know give each other the gift of 'one less obligation' at Christmas. They have made a pact to not buy each other a gift or card in December, but instead they go out together for at least one dinner a month the rest of the year. This helps them feel less stressed emotionally and financially – and keeps them connected -- they find they can truly enjoy and celebrate each other's company doing it this way.

4) Have a plan -- but accept that it might change.

You planned to get the latest, greatest Tickle-Me-Elmo/Cabbage Patch/Sponge Bob deely-bopper as the 'big' present for little Emily or Justin this year -- but at the last minute, the store runs out. Is it really the end of the world? Maybe it's a good lesson that there are lots of nice gifts out there – and a good reminder that this is not what the season is about anyway. One family I know give their son one gift and then take him to the store so he can choose another gift to give to a child whose family can't afford presents.

5) Opt out of Holiday Madness.

Yes, it's a crazy time of year -- but so much of the madness is optional. You can enjoy the Christmas lights and the holiday displays at the grand stores and malls without feeling like you have to spend any money. Just enjoy the sights and feel grateful someone did all that work for your pleasure. You might choose to say 'no' to a couple of holiday parties, and go for a massage instead. Bundle up and walk around Lost Lagoon, Deer Lake or Pacific Spirit Park (or your favourite place to experience the wonders of nature) with a close friend or with family members. If you feel that you're drinking, eating, smoking, gambling or spending too much, perhaps you can talk to a friend or counsellor about that.  Above all, remember to be gentle with yourself. This season can make us all crazy, but can also be a happy, peaceful time if we choose to practice healthy self-care and step out of the stress lane.

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