By John Townsend, Ph.D.

Most of us feel two distinct emotions around the holidays: anticipation and anxiety. The anticipation is about looking forward to the people and activities that mean something to us. Unfortunately, so is the anxiety, which concerns the more difficult family members we’ll come into contact with and the stresses that come with all of the preparation and demands, from Christmas shopping to cooking to parties.

Here are some ideas to help you experience higher anticipation and lower anxiety.

Take some deep breaths. Right now.
As you read this, put down your device for 60 seconds and take deep breaths. Most of us can inhale for 3 seconds and exhale for 3 seconds. Others can go to 5 seconds. The reason this will help is because we have a tendency to blow through articles and blogs and not really take in the information. We just plow through the paragraphs and go to the next demand on our calendar, so the content doesn’t help us. Simply do the exercise to take a break from your stress. This will help you to feel some calmness and centeredness, and you’ll be able to really consider the tips here and how to use them.

Block out the free time you need.
We don’t get into trouble by overscheduling. We get into trouble by under scheduling free time. (I hope sleep time is blocked out on your calendar so other activities don’t interfere.) Scheduling free time is a real help to manage holiday stress. How many hours off in the morning, afternoon or evening do you need to have a great season? Block those times out. These can be times for working out, hanging out with a friend, doing a hobby or taking a nap. When you put work, sleep, meals, family responsibilities and chores in, you have to make sure the rest of the day doesn’t get eaten up in holiday prep or activities. I suggest at least an hour every day that is “you” time.

Limit those “difficult” people.
Holidays can be a time of dread because of commitments to spend an evening (hopefully not a whole week!) with family members who talk nonstop, have awful social conduct, are alcoholics or make things all about themselves. (I’m getting stressed just writing this.) One helpful idea is to consider not inviting every single person who is related to you. While the holidays are great times for bringing people together, there is no rule that says someone who is toxic gets a free pass. You may have to buck the system with other family members, but at least you will have brought it up and shared the possibility.

On those occasions that include the difficult people (for example, at a party you are attending but not hosting), simply do this: Be kind, give them a couple of minutes of greeting time and go talk to someone else. You shouldn’t be rude, nor should you take the opportunity to have that conversation you’ve been avoiding (“I’ve been waiting all year to tell you how your drinking has impacted me”). Just have a quick check-in and wish them well, then spend 90 percent of your time with people you love. For more information on this, read my book How to Deal with Difficult People.

Get everyone aligned.
Have a family meeting and tell everyone you want them to have a great holiday this year. Talk about your calendaring of free time and help them with theirs. Let them know you’re going to focus on being with people you enjoy and minimize time with the hard ones. Help them to have the same perspective and courage to do that for themselves as well.

Check out
We have just released it, and you will find lots of videos about relationships and families that are practical and helpful as well.

Let’s de-stress the holiday season, and have a great one!!