Many people look forward to the holiday season as a break from the madness of everyday life.

In a perfect world, everyone would be sipping hot cocoa in front of a crackling fire with friends and family. In the real world, we slug down coffee in front of the computer surrounded by jam-packed calendars and to-do lists.

We often have high expectations for this season. Everything must be baked from scratch and the decorations must have just the right amount of sparkle. Gifts have to be exactly what the person was hoping for to avoid disappointment and of course presents must be beautifully wrapped. Unrealistic expectations only lead to stressful holidays.

Don’t let the stress of the holidays take over. It is not too late to make plans and decisions that will decrease stress and increase fun.

Taking a holistic approach to caring for yourself this holiday season — and throughout the year — can really make a difference in your physical, emotional and psychological well-being. It’s easy to get out of balance when things get hectic, and things have the potential to get truly hectic during the holiday season.

In order for the holidays to bring the best out in you, and not get the best of you, there are some helpful tactics to remember during December.

A good way to eliminate tasks causing you undue stress is to make a list. Not a grocery shopping list or a gift shopping list. Make a list of what you expect from yourself and your family during the holidays. Then review the list, ideally with a sensible friend, to see if your expectations are realistic. Good questions to ask yourself when reviewing your list include:

  • Can I afford to do this?
  • Do I have time to do this?
  • Do I really want to do this?
  • Will the holidays still be enjoyable if I skip this?
  • Will doing this create a lasting memory?

Another unhealthy habit during the holiday is winter weight gain. Staying fit during the holidays doesn’t mean you have to give up the turkey, dressing and cranberry sauce. But it does involve understanding the trade-offs involved in your choices, and making decisions that maintain a healthy balance. Enjoy the festivities, but focus on moderation and remember to take a brisk walk before or the morning after a holiday meal or party.

For those who find stress in the loneliness or isolation of the holidays, remember to reach out. This is prime time to reach out to friends, the community or even make a connection with nature. Volunteering your time to help others is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships. Don’t forget to take a breather and ask for help if you need it.

This year, try to simplify your holiday commitments, traditions and stresses. When you make time to do things for yourself and focus on a healthy balance, you will find the holidays a lot more enjoyable.