5 secrets to a stress-free holiday season

How to plan the perfect event for family and friends

While children may delight in thinking about the upcoming holiday season, many parents dread the work and expense that comes along with decorating, making meals and navigating crowded malls. Here are five ideas to decrease the headaches and increase the happy for your family this holiday season.

Talk turkey

The financial pressures of the holidays can be a source of stress for families. Establish a budget, especially if you would like to spend less on meals, gifts, and activities associated with your family traditions. “We’ve discovered that the number one stress fighter is planning ahead,” says Lynn Colwell, co-author of the book Celebrate Green! Creating Eco-Savvy Holidays, Celebrations and Traditions for the Whole Family. “We suggest sitting down with the whole family and talking about the upcoming holidays and how you want to approach them.” Instead of focusing on what you cannot afford, consider how you can work within your budget. This might be the time to establish new, less expensive, and more meaningful family traditions.  “Once you know what everyone is looking for, you can make choices of what to do based on your time, money, and emotional attachment to the event,” says Colwell.

Share the joy (and work!)

As families gather to celebrate the holidays, the amount of work may seem overwhelming. But others are feeling the same way  and may want to share the work. “Local chefs sometimes ask their personal guests to bring their favorite holiday dish to family functions as a way to alleviate the cost, time, and stress of cooking a traditional holiday meal,” says  Allison Short, president of In A New York Minute, a concierge and lifestyle management service in LaGrangeville. “Give it a try, you just might start a family tradition and learn a new recipe along the way!”

Suggest a cookie exchange between neighbors, where everyone bakes a few dozen of their favorite cookies and trades with each other. Or ask your computer savvy niece to help make up an easily updated address label system for holiday cards.

Simplify holiday meals by looking at local stores to help do the work for you. “Many of our departments have time-saving meal options and most only need twenty-four hours advance notice,” says Margaret Waz, assistant store manager at Adams Fairacre Farms in Newburgh. Waz adds that the store’s food department managers and staff are very knowledgeable and are happy to help customers find the missing ingredient, assist with recipe suggestions, cooking times, and ‘food needed per guest’ calculations.

Hire some elves

If there’s one job that you detest consider setting aside extra money to hire someone to complete that task as an early gift to yourself. “It is quite common for new clients to assume that a concierge is only for the rich and famous. I believe that personal luxuries should be affordable,” says Short. “Some of our smaller services include grocery shopping, home and pet sitting, as well as simple errand running and even holiday card mailing. By eliminating the ‘to do list,’ families can spend more time enjoying their holiday season together.”

If getting your home clean for arriving guests is a source of stress, consider hiring a one-time house cleaner right before everyone arrives. Hire a teenager to help with wrapping or holiday card assembly. Hire a local landscaper to hang those holiday lights that always give you joy (but also a lot of backache the next day).

Ring in the New Year (early)

While most people wait until the New Year to begin an exercise program, the best time to start may be December 1. “I think that our plate kind of fills up during the holidays and we take an all or nothing approach when it comes to exercise,” says Kim England, fitness director at Sportsplex in New Windsor. “But even doing a little bit is better than doing nothing.”

Exercise has a physiological response of reducing cortisol levels, according to England. Cortisol is a hormone that our adrenal glands produce when we perceive stress. “A lot of fitness centers have short term trial memberships,” said England. “And it’s a great time of year to get discounts at the gyms on memberships.” England also suggests scheduling your social festivities around exercise instead of eating to reduce holiday season stress. “Think about raking leaves with the family, snowball fights or walking to look at holiday lights,” says England.

So make your list (and check it twice)

However families decide to celebrate this holiday season, taking the time to make intentional decisions on how to spend time and money will help to make the winter months happier for the entire family.

Planning not only helps to lessen your stress but also creates a time for you to consider how you would like your family to spend this holiday season. “Doing this brainstorming and organizing needn't take more than an hour, but it can pay off in so many ways,” says Colwell.

Bonus! Holiday shopping tips from Allison Short of In A New York Minute in Lagrangeville:

  • Start early or stay late
    Take advantage of extended store hours. New merchandise is usually on the shelves by Wednesday. By shopping mid-week, you’ll be first in line.
  • Or don’t go at all
    For years on Black Friday, I would trudge out to the mall at 4am and wait on line for those “special deals.” Stores often receive limited quantities of what’s hot, especially electronics, to get you in the door. That “got to have gadget” is long gone before you get close to the entrance. Most of the deals retailers offer can be found on their web sites, with additional savings or even free shipping.

 Janine Boldrin is a freelance writer who lives in West Point with her family.