4 tips for squashing holiday stress

Dealing more proactively with year-end stress can not only help you keep your sanity this season, it can help you be more productive and enter 2012 feeling fresh iStockphoto

There's a reason why eggnog, one of the least palatable beverages produced in the history of modern mixology, is so popular. The holiday season is super stressful. December seems impossibly filled with deadlines, from buying gifts to decorating the house to finishing up the last push of the year at work. If you're at the office this week, you're likely covering for some folks who took their year-end vacation. And then there's the inevitable traveling to visit relatives or hosting others from out-of-town. This is where those booze-laced, creamy milkshakes come into play.

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Dealing more proactively with year-end stress can not only help you keep your sanity (and pants size) this season, it can help you be more productive and enter 2012 feeling fresh, not fried. Here are 4 ways to feel more merry for the next week or so, without downing a drop of that nasty nog:

Be present

The holidays can make us all feel like event planners -- you rush, rush, rush to get it all done, and before you know it, the season is over and you're wondering what to get your partner for Valentine's Day. So try to remain present, or "in the moment." Give generously of things that are free, suggests relaxation expert Darren Zeer, who wrote Office Yoga. "Smile, laugh, open a door for someone, hug friends and family, acknowledge those important in your life," Zeer says. "Small actions can have a big result." It's advice that rings true at the office, as well as at home, all year round.

Keep up your routine

Sleep is crucial, but it's the first thing to go when work commitments, parties, travel and entertaining collide. "Poor sleep greatly reduces our ability to concentrate," says W. Christopher Winter, M.D., medical director at Martha Jefferson Hospital Sleep Medicine Center. "It impairs memory, and obviously, staying up late talking to visiting relatives might make it difficult for you to stay awake during a boring meeting." His best advice is to try to keep up your regular healthy habits, like exercise and moderate drinking. (The latter, incidentally, can also help you avoid any office party disasters).

Tone down your Christmas decorations and tunes

Think you hate holiday lights because you're a Grinch at heart? That's unlikely, but for some people, bright lights can be jarring. "Dim the lights and light some candles to ease eye-strain," says Zeer. If your kids have the new Chipmunk's Christmas album on repeat, pop in some more soothing, softer versions of the holiday standards. (Try the always popular Bing Crosby, or the new take by Zooey Deschanel's band She & Him).

Don't try to be the big guy in the red suit

December hits, and all of a sudden you want to make memories like it's your job. You aim to make the perfect meal, buy the perfect presents, and all along the way be perfectly jolly in and out of the office. The result? Inexplicable cravings for eggnog (heavy on the nog). "Try and take the pressure of yourself to be Santa," Zeer says. "Just be yourself. Your friends and family love you just the way you are." Cheers to that!

  • Amy Levin-Epstein On Twitter»

    Amy Levin-Epstein is a freelance writer who has been published in dozens of magazines (including Glamour, Self and Redbook), websites (including AOLHealth.com, Babble.com and Details.com) and newspapers (including The New York Post and the Boston Globe). To read more of her writing, visit AmyLevinEpstein.com.

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