Welcome to December. I enjoy holidays, especially this time of year as Christians celebrate God’s expression of love through the gift of His Son. Twinkling lights decorate neighborhoods and shopping centers while the glorious sounds of the season ring out in our homes, our churches, the radio, and even in many businesses in our community. One holiday tune tells us, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” And yet, it’s also a most hectic time of year as we attempt to pack so many things into this month. Our to-do lists are overflowing and our budgets are being stretched. If we’re not careful, holiday anxiety begins to creep in as we wonder, “Will I find the perfect gifts? When will I decorate? What will I wear to the parties? Will everyone be happy with the gifts I give? Do I have enough time, money and energy to accomplish everything on my list? With all I have to do, should my cards read Merry Christmas or Happy New Year?” Holiday stress. We attempt to avoid it, yet it finds its way into our lives, and we’re faced with a choice. We can try to fight it, we can pretend it’s not there or we can acknowledge its presence and decide how to move through it while not loosing touch with the meaning of the season. Rather than letting this stress create anxiety that impacts us emotionally as well as physically, we can use it as a motivator, challenging us to sharpen our focus, clarify our goals and choose responses that will best lead to our success. The following suggestions will help you successfully move through the stress of the weeks ahead and enjoy the spirit of the holidays. Determine your overall goals for the holiday season and keep them solidly in mind with each choice you make. Be reasonable in your expectations of yourself and of others. Exercise patience, understanding, reason, grace, and forgiveness. Set a budget for gifts, meals, decorations, and entertainment. Then commit to stay within the boundary you’ve set. Prioritize your tasks. Use a daily and weekly planner to organize activities and help stay on track. Recognize that every time you say “yes” to something you say “no” to something else. Consider the cost before making the commitment of your time, energy, and resources. Take care of yourself physically with sufficient rest, healthy eating and exercise. Don’t overdo working, eating, drinking or being merry. Overindulging in any of these areas is draining afterward. Treat yourself to times of relaxation that will refresh and renew your mind and body with a warm soak in the tub, a massage, a leisurely walk, quiet time to unwind, candles and aromatherapy, a holiday-themed book and music to warm your heart and stir your spirit. Enjoy time with others to share the spirit of the season with laughter, play and worship. Consider gifts of service. Rather then buy something, give your time, talent, ability, energy, and presence. Mow a yard. Rake leaves. Teach a skill. Play a game. Help clean out a garage or clean a house. Prepare a meal. Share your baked treats. Babysit. Pet sit. Spend time with someone who is lonely. Volunteer at a local organization that helps those who are struggling. Make a donation in someone’s name to a charity. Allow others to help you tend to some of the tasks on your list. Be flexible. Glitches are going to happen, even with the most well-thought- out plan. Give yourself a break and don’t stress out. Instead, take a step back to reevaluate your plan, then make adjustments as necessary. And one final suggestion to help manage the stress that is so prevalent during this season: take time to slip away from tasks, lists, worries, even from friends and family. Be still. Take deep breaths and let your mind focus on the true meaning of this season. Ask God to open the eyes of your heart to experience the gifts of love, joy, and peace He has for you. Then ask Him to show you how best to share those gifts with others during this special season of giving. Nancy Williams, M Ed, LPC offers counseling, life coaching and consulting services, and is the author of Secrets to Parenting Your Adult Child. Send comments to her at www.nancywilliams.net..