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Keep calm and stay sane during this busy season. Picture yourself relaxing peacefully by the fire as your children laugh and giggle. You experience a sense of being in the moment, while feeling proud of yourself that all the gifts are wrapped and all the food is prepared for the holidays ahead. Does this sound like your experience year after year? Or does your blood pressure rise at the mere thought of the holidays approaching? Has this time of year turned into more stress than fun and simple enjoyment? As a freelance writer, marathon runner and volunteer, Gina Warner understands the challenges of maintaining a healthy pace during the holidays. This busy wife and mother of three says planning ahead is the key to staying sane. “I always make November my busy taskfilled month so I can focus on fully enjoying the season in December,” she says.

Gina also credits her commitment to maintaining her usual routine as a significant tool: “I think my discipline and dedication to living an organized life are enormously valuable during the holidays. They help me stay centered on the spirituality of the season.” There is no denying that this time of year is full and busy. However, you can make some simple changes in your life to bring about more balance. Imagine this for a moment: As December approaches, you look forward to the month with anticipation and excitement. You’ve committed to several parties, you’ve also set aside quiet time with your family, you’ve budgeted and bought gifts before the crowds, and you’ve managed to add a splash of R&R as well. Does this sound appealing? It does not have to be a wishful dream; you can absolutely create this experience. I remember how exciting and magical this time of year was when I was growing up. Luckily, my mother had a way of focusing on the meaning and true spirit of the season. Of course, we loved the presents, but my memories are more about the time we spent together as a family. We would volunteer at various organizations and do our part to make a difference. For some reason, over the years, the frantic pace has reached a level of discomfort for many people. They are trying to do more; they are overextending themselves, overcommitting their schedules and taking the fun out of the season.

What do you remember from your childhood? Has the simplicity vanished? I was once guilty of getting caught up in the hype of the holidays. I felt the need to buy gifts for everyone. I said “yes” to every invitation that we received, and in the process I became a bit bitter and rigid. I lost touch with what the holidays were really about by trying to please everyone else first. I needed to take a step back and prioritize what really mattered. By figuring out how I wanted my children to experience the holiday season, I was able to let go of some of the guilt and put my family first. It is truly amazing what a difference some simple changes can make. Denise Plante, along with being a DJ on a Denver station, KOSI radio, and co-host of Colorado and Company, is a wife and mother as well. She has an extremely full plate and knows firsthand how hectic the holidays can become. She remarks, “Holidays a time to relax and have fun with family and friends, right? Not always. I found myself getting a little nervous planning a holiday dinner for family members. I decided to make a list a few weeks ahead of time to get more organized, so when family arrived we could all enjoy each others’ company without the panic. I also realized everything was not going to be perfect. I don’t cook or decorate as well as my mother and mother-in-law, so I do my best and enjoy. Final tip, get the holiday shopping out of the way as early as possible.” Ultimately, this time of year should be spent with friends and family, immersed in those traditions that are meaningful and heartfelt for you and your loved ones. It shouldn’t be spent wishing the month were over. If you truly want to simplify your life this time around and experience the holidays differently, follow some of my practical steps.

familyIssues2PREPARE AHEAD OF TIME
Planning ahead will only alleviate stress later on. What can you prepare for now that you won’t have to worry about later in the month? Do you have holiday shopping? Do meals need to be prepared for visiting family members? Take some time to create a master list of everything that needs to get accomplished, including the deadline. Prioritize the list from most important to least important tasks, and then write down dates between now and the deadline that you will complete certain jobs. This will make you feel in control even when everything else seems out of control.

TAKE A BREATH
You will undoubtedly encounter people who are overextended during the holidays. Instead of taking on their energy as your own, take a deep breath and let it go. Make a conscious choice about how you will respond to others’ negativity. Even the simple act of mentally preparing yourself before walking into a mall will make a difference in how you experience others’ attitudes. Over the years I have become much better at applying this concept. Don’t set yourself up to fail, however, because no matter how much you prepare, you will sometimes be affected by others’ negative energy. Just be aware this will happen; take a step back, refocus your mood on something positive, and be on your way.

DON’T OVERCOMMIT
It is very easy this time of year to have your calendar fill up with party after party. If you truly want to enjoy the holidays, take time for yourself and your family and learn to say no. You aren’t obligated to attend every gathering that comes your way. Pick and choose and then enjoy some down time in between. I have learned over the years that it is much more enjoyable to have a lighter calendar during the holidays than to overextend myself and feel exhausted and spent. Practice the art of saying “no thank you” this year and see how it improves the quality, if not the quantity, of your time.

Now get back to that crackling fire, sip a cup of hot cocoa while surrounded by your loved ones, and truly enjoy the moment.

By LESLIE GAIL