The holidays are supposed to be fun, right?

But most people experience some level of holiday stress . This can be caused by the demands of shopping for gifts, attending social gatherings, and coping with the inevitable memories that are brought up by the holiday season.

Here are a five Wise Mind Living tips to help you cope with stressful situations during the holidays.

1. Set realistic expectations and keep things in perspective.

Most of us find ourselves faced with too much to do, too much to buy and not enough time or money for everything we think we should be doing. Decrease your stress symptoms by not saying yes to everything.

Be realistic about your plans. Before saying yes, ask yourself if this is really something you’ll enjoy or if you’re simply going because you feel obligated. And remember that holiday parties are supposed to be fun.  But if you’re experiencing social anxiety, read this post to learn how to overcome it.

When it comes to managing holiday financial stress, it’s important to set a realistic spending limit and stick with it. Don’t just hand over the credit card each time you make a purchase. Using cash will force you to be mindful of the financial choices you are making.

The bottom line is that with all of the choices you have to make this holiday season, it’s important to step back and check in to make sure you’re making Wise Mind choices and not Emotion Mind choices.

2.    Create a new tradition

This goes along with setting those realistic expectations. If your life doesn’t look like the idyllic Norman Rockwell picture  let go of the expectations that you should be having a holiday filled with picture perfect family experiences. Really, whose does anyway?

Create your own unique traditions that fit your life as it actually is.  If you don’t have a family or are too far away to see them, invite others into your home and create a new tradition of celebrating with your “extended family.”

No one to invite? Why not find a place to volunteer your time and help people who have less than you do.  Helping others is one of the best antidotes for self-pity and the holiday blues. It also helps us remember the real meaning of the holidays.

3.    Take care of yourself, both physically and spiritually

Don’t wait until New Year’s Day to start working on those resolutions of taking better care of yourself.  Do it now to help you deal with stress from the holidays.

Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, eating in a balanced way and getting some exercise. These are three of the best ways to manage the physical aspects of stress no matter what time of year.

You will be amazed at how making a little effort in these three areas can lift your mood and give you more energy for managing the stress of the season. Go to bed early at least once a week, take a little walk at lunchtime and be sure to drink plenty of water.

In the midst of all your holiday busyness it would also be helpful to create a little space for yourself to sit quietly and just breathe. Several times throughout your day, stop whatever you are doing and just tune in to your breath and your body for one minute. This is one of the best stress relievers you can do anywhere.

If you notice any tension in your body, try to release it. Imagine that you are breathing in relaxation and breathing out tension.  Let this relaxation time be a little gift you give to yourself this holiday. You might also try doing my relaxation practice at bedtime to clear your head and help you get a good night’s sleep.

4.    Grieve

If the holidays remind you of an important person you’ve lost, a time in your life you miss or even choices you regret, allow yourself to cry, remember and mourn.

Pushing away these feelings doesn’t make them go away.  Take out the photos or listen to “your song,” and then try to think of the good times you had or the lessons you learned as a result of the painful experience.

Remember that Wise Mind Living means allowing and acknowledging your emotions with compassion and gentleness.

Sharing with someone else that you are dealing with grief and sadness can also help (read about the 8 emotion families here).  Letting the people who love you know that the holidays are hard for you gives them the chance to support you—and even if they don’t know exactly what to do, just knowing that they care can help.

5.    Forgive

The holidays offer the perfect time to consider letting go of that grudge you’ve been holding or settling that conflict that you’ve been avoiding.

Forgiving that selfish thing your friend did months ago or the ways you feel your parents have let you down isn’t easy. But loosening the grip anger and resentment have on you, even just a little bit, can make a huge difference in your overall quality of life.

Most people get hung up on the idea that forgiveness means letting the other person off the hook. Instead, try thinking about forgiveness as something you’re doing for yourself – not something you’re doing for the other person.

Research shows that people who forgive feel happier, are physically healthier and have stronger and more meaningful relationships.  In fact, forgiveness boosts kindness and connectedness in general.  People who are forgiving are more likely to volunteer and more likely to give to charity. So what better time to try to practice forgiveness than during the holiday season?

How are you handling your stress this holiday season? Please leave your comments below.

Mindfully,

Erin