Hassle-free holidays

Twelve sanity-savers that are sure to help you feel in control all season long

Whether you go all out or keep it simple, the holidays tend to take on a life of their own, leaving many of us feeling drained, says Vancouver-based certified life coach and founder of Briefcase Moms, Lisa Martin. “The holiday season is very stressful for women. There are family issues, kid issues and work issues to deal with,” she says. But with a little bit of forethought and a few good decisions, you can have a holiday that’s both magical and relaxing. It all starts with taking care of yourself, so we spoke to the experts to get their top stress-busting tips.

Choose a sanity-saver from the menu below.

What are your intentions? Before the madness truly sets in, establish a vision for the season, says Vancouver-based certified life coach and founder of Briefcase Moms, Lisa Martin. “Allow yourself to get a clear idea of what you want your holiday to be about,” she says. Do you crave time with the fam or a busy party circuit? Set aside 10 minutes in November and make a list of all of the activities you think you’d enjoy. Once you’ve jotted them all down, see if a theme emerges. This will help you decide what to participate in and what to skip as the invites roll in, says Martin. If you stick to your plan, you’ll likely end up doing the things you’ll most enjoy.

Saying no also means saying yes If the prospect of saying no to a request fills you with guilt, think of turning down requests this way: “Whenever you say no to something, you are saying yes to something else,” says Calgary-based registered psychologist Sophia Lang. “Be clear about what you are saying yes and no to.” Declining to decorate the halls of your kid’s school means you can accept participating in the holiday bake sale.

Make time for lunch You’re running around town and the last thing you’ve got time for is a sandwich. Besides, you’ve got a holiday dinner to attend later so you may as well bank the saved calories for then, right? Wrong, says Areli Hermanson, registered dietitian with the Vancouver Island Health Authority. “You end up being so hungry by the time the party comes around that you overeat,” she says. Plus, being hungry all day will leave you feeling tired and moody, not to mention vulnerable to any nasty viruses swirling around. She recommends eating small meals and snacks every two to three hours. And as tempting as it is, try not to reach for a shortbread cookie and call it lunch. Go for whole grains, fresh fruit and veggies, lean meats and low fat dairy. Not only will you feel fuller longer, but you”ll also be boosting your immune system. Try one of these healthy lunch on-the-go ideas.

Strike a pose A yoga pose that is. Whether you’re a newbie or a regular, carving time out of your hectic day for a few poses can go a long way towards relaxing and renewing your body, says Maxine Munro, a certified yoga instructor and co-director of Therapeutic Approach Yoga Studio in Halifax. “The holidays are usually very outwardly focused,” says Munro. “Yoga lets you turn your awareness inward.”

Drop in on an hour long class, if you can swing it. If not, Munro suggests trying the reclined butterfly pose right at home – not only will it help rid your muscles of tension, but it’ll also ease digestion by improving blood flow to the belly (it can be your way of making it up to your body after that second piece of pie).

Lie down on your back with a bolster or pillow along the length of your spine with your buttocks on the floor. Keep the soles of your feet together and your knees open like the wings of a butterfly. Hold for ten minutes. Looking for more yoga poses? Try one of these workouts from beginner to advanced.

Take it outside If you’re hosting this year, skip the formal dinner party and host a mid-day potluck paired with a hike or other outdoor activity instead, suggests Winnipeg-based registered dietitian Jorie Janzen. Go sledding, skating or even just for a walk. Chances are, your guests will welcome an event that doesn’t completely revolve around food.

Walk away when you need to When it all gets to be a little too much, sometimes all you need is some down-time, says Vancouver-based certified life coach and founder of Briefcase Moms, Lisa Martin. She advises that before the holiday season sets in, every woman jot down a list of a few stress-relieving activities she enjoys. “They can be as simple as going for a walk, or popping in a DVD,” she says. The moment things start to heat up, pull out the list and as soon as you can get away, do one of the activities on it. You won’t waste any time wondering what to do to help you relax, and chances are after your mini-break you’ll feel refreshed and ready to tackle the holidays again.

Conquer the buffet Here’s a no-brainer: stand across the room from the buffet table and you’ll be less likely to make repeated trips to load up your plate with food, says Areli Hermanson, registered dietitian with the Vancouver Island Health Authority. And since typical buffet and cocktail food often comes in bite-sized portions, be extra aware of how much you’re consuming. Savour the flavour of each item by taking small bites from it, rather than popping it in your mouth in one go.

Keep track Nope, we’re not talking about all those holiday bills. To help stay in control of what you eat, try the EATracker from the Dietitians of Canada, suggests Winnipeg-based registered dietitian Jorie Janzen. The free online tool helps you track what you’ve consumed during the day and guides you on where you can do better. “I’ve had numerous clients tell me that keeping a log of intake and activities opened up awareness of what they were putting in their bodies,” she says. “It’s a personal motivator.”

Get your zzzs What generally keeps you tossing and turning at night during hectic times? Stress, of course. The organ associated with stress is the adrenal gland, says naturopath Sandra Murphy at the Therapeutic Approach Yoga Studio in Halifax. The key to getting a good sleep, she says, is to keep your routine-loving adrenal gland happy. Murphy suggests giving your body a cue that it’s time to hit the sack every night. An hour before you want to drift off, have a cup of chamomile or a hot bath. Once you’ve established a pattern, your body will respond by starting to relax, helping you unwind enough to get quality shut eye. For 29 more more tips on getting enough sleep, click here.

Pop a pill We’re talking vitamins here. Nothing is a replacement for eating well, says naturopath Sandra Murphy at the Therapeutic Approach Yoga Studio in Halifax. But taking a multivitamin, particularly during a time when you may not be getting all the nutrients, vitamins and minerals you need, can be a good thing. “It can help ensure you’re getting enough zinc and vitamin C, both of which are used by immune cells to fight viruses and bacteria,” she says.

Listen to your body Let’s face it, all those hours on your feet at the mall and in the kitchen are going to take a toll. Make sure you’re listening to the signals your body sends you, advises Toronto-based chiropractor Jason Twardowski. If you’re out running around town all day for several hours, be sure to take a 20-minute break every couple of hours. Your feet will welcome the relief, and besides, what’s not to love about a cappuccino break? Once you’re done for the day, try this trick to ease your aching, inflamed feet: keep a water bottle in the freezer, while sitting roll the length of your foot back and forth over the frozen water bottle, switch to the other foot after five to eight minutes. The icy water bottle will cool your feet and the movement will help stretch out the muscles, relieving tension.

Make time for your sweetie Sounds easy, right? But staying connected to your partner can be trickier than you think, says Toronto-based couples therapist Karen Hirscheimer. It’s easy to get wrapped up in all of the other responsibilities you have and forget to address you and your partner’s needs. Plus, the holidays can introduce pressures around finances, families and schedules for a couple. She says the key to effectively dealing with tension and keeping things smooth is to focus on positive energy. In other words, make sure to have a little fun by planning a couple of special one-on-one activities. Take a leisurely walk on a snowy night, stay in bed for a decadent breakfast, or book a night at a hotel for just the two of you before Christmas and take advantage of the alone time.