I have a confession to make. Every year, my holiday cards are late. I just don’t get around to mailing them out until I go on vacation a few days before Christmas. It doesn’t matter when Hanukah is or that Christmas is the same day every year. My family and friends usually don’t receive my holiday greetings until a few days before New Year’s. I know I’m old-fashioned, but I love sending and receiving hand-signed cards in the mail. I used to get really stressed out about my belated cards, worrying about what people would think and feeling embarrassed that I couldn’t complete this task on time. However, over the past few years, I have been able to laugh with my mother-in-law as she watched me signing and stamping on December 24th.

I’m not alone in struggling to get things done during the holiday season. Despite the fact that TV, movies and commercials tell us that this time of year should be joyous, carefree and fun, it can be really overwhelming. The last time the holidays felt effortless and peaceful was when I was a kid. As an adult, I can enjoy the holidays but extra responsibilities can interfere with the excitement and merriment of the season. Often my schedule is filled up with shopping for gifts, decorating, cooking and going to parties. It’s a really hectic time of year.

So how did I go from stressing about the holidays to really enjoying this time of year? I learned some important tools about how to manage holiday stress successfully. In order to implement these tools, I had to first realize that the holiday season goes from mid-October, as I’m prepping for Halloween, until January 1st. That’s a long time to have that many additional responsibilities added to your plate.

When we are juggling holiday obligations on top of our hectic everyday lives, it can really help to prioritize. I just accept now that I won’t be able to get everything done, and that really reduces my level of stress. Some years, that means I can’t make that cool handmade gift I saw online or pick out really personalized gifts for everyone, so some people get a gift card. Other years, it might mean that I can’t host a party. And other years, it might mean declining some invitations to parties so I can have some time for myself.

This discussion of priorities takes me to another important tool for coping with holiday stress: managing my expectations. I have to be realistic about how the holiday season will go, knowing that my life doesn’t resemble a scene on an ideal Christmas postcard but is more like the dogs eating the turkey in A Christmas Story or the squirrel scene in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. There may be some family drama and I might end up burning the potato latkes or the Christmas cookies. I won’t get my cards out on time and I might not be able to attend every get-together. Being able to accept that things won’t be perfect for the holidays allows me to relax and enjoy the moment.

What things help you manage holiday stress? If you have struggled with this issue in past years, join me on October 30th for a free seminar to learn more stress management tools for the holidays.