Are your Grinch feelings normal—or do you need to do things differently to better handle the holidays?
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It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year. Only there you are, battling your way to the register among hordes of mall shoppers, listening to relatives bicker at family get-togethers, and staying up until all hours to bake festive treats. Seasonal overstress is not uncommon: Numerous studies have found that for many people, the holidays are the most overwhelming part of the year, and women are more affected than men. Reality check: Despite all the holiday craft and decoration boards on Pinterest, there are no requirements when it comes to celebrating. Here are some proven ways to enjoy the season without freaking out.

Remake a list, don’t check it twice

Jot down your top priorities, leaving off anything that’s not an absolute must. Be brutal: Do you really have to host more than one meal or go to every party? Then delegate what you can. Give your partner a list of to-dos—whether it’s shopping for gifts or hauling out decorations.

Be real about family fun

Expecting relatives to be one big happy family can lead to letdown. Instead, aim fo one big calm family. If relatives are coming, don’t leave chunks of unstructured time when they can get on one another’s nerves. Organize easy activities, like a Monopoly championship or movie screening. You can also suggest that guests relax with a book or walk outside. (See you later, grouchy Aunt Lorraine!) If you’re visiting family, it might help to have an escape plan—tell them that you’ll stop by but can’t stay all day.

Keep up fitness

Most of us ease up on exercising regularly during the holiday season because we’re so short on time. But that’s a big mistake. Even squeezing in a 15-minute run several times a week or nightly after-dinner walk will improve your mood and make you feel less stressed out.

Know that the thought really does count

Often our own perfectionism can drive us to shop for the perfect presents—racking up time and frustration (not to mention bills). The truth is, people want to know that you thought of them and value them; that’s the biggest gift. A small or homemade item with a note that says how much the person means to you year-round will be a bigger hit than a pricey present. Check out our gift guide for presents everyone on your list will love.

Focus on what the holidays signify to you

For some, they’re about time spent with family; for others, religious observance is key. Own your meaning. Reflecting for just a few minutes each day on the significance of the holidays and why you appreciate them can help you feel centered.