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7 surprisingly easy ways to kick holiday stress to the curb

It's the most wonderful time of year, but also potentially the most stressful! Dr. Fernstrom, NBC News' health editor, gives her top tips on how you can have an anxiety-free holiday.
Know Your Value founder and "Morning Joe" co-host Mika Brzezinski, left, and Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom, NBC News' health editor, right.
Know Your Value founder and "Morning Joe" co-host Mika Brzezinski, left, and Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom, NBC News' health editor, right.Travis W Keyes

Holiday stress creeps up on all of us. The extra time devoted to season’s activities — like cooking, shopping, cleaning and entertaining — adds up fast. Those added time demands create a lot of extra pressure, but it can get easier if you make some smart decisions now!

While you can’t eliminate holiday stress, you can certainly manage it to make the season less stressful and more enjoyable by planning ahead. Try these easy ways to keep your stress at a minimum, all month long.

1. Set your priorities.

The holidays are a time to celebrate with family and friends and create lifelong memories. It’s the time together that matters most. Choose the most important traditions of the season that matter to you, and focus on those special times.

2. Learn to say ‘no.’

Whether it’s socializing, preparing food or decorating, it’s important for self-care to say “enough.” It’s OK to give yourself permission to say ‘no.’ Sometimes providing an alternative to the request is best. For example, offer to bring festive napkins and plates to a school party for your child, instead of baking cookies. Or, defer a lunch with a co-worker for a post-holiday connection.

3. Create a schedule and stick to it.

Pre-plan your activities for yourself and your family. Pace yourself to allow for downtime in between events. Think carefully before you commit, and make sure to account for the travel time involved.

4. Be realistic.

Don’t compete with your memories of past holidays. The remembrance of the “perfect” holiday is usually not as perfect as we recall. Choose some traditions you’d like to continue and create some new ones as well.

5. Stay within your budget.

Nothing creates more stress than overspending. Keep a tally of your expenses, and your holiday spending limit – not just for gifts, but also food and entertainment.

6. Get some alone time every day.

Even 15 minutes of private time can help. Whether it’s a walk, phone call with a friend or a cup of tea with your feet up – take that time to regroup. Also, don’t skimp on sleep.

7. Ask for help.

Most people are happy to help — when asked — even if they don’t volunteer to help you first! Double up on cookie baking with a friend, or divide up the shopping for a family holiday meal with your loved ones.

Madelyn Fernstrom, Ph.D., is NBC News’ health editor. Follow her on Twitter @drfernstrom.