In our minds, the holiday season is picture perfect with its pretty paper, ribbons, and lights. However, surviving holiday stress and the mountain of debt that often accompanies it can be painful. How do we get through it and still manage to enjoy the traditions we long for all year? Try keeping a few of these traditions.

1. Stick to a budget! Rather than revelling in regret about all the money (and plastic) you spent on the dinner, the decorations, the wrapping paper and bows, and, of course, the gifts, set a spending limit and don’t give in. Talk it over with family and friends and have them agree to an amount to eliminate any room for gift guilt. Consider doing the same with your significant other. Gifts between couples can often get out of hand. Family and friends agreeing to abstain from gifting is also an option (no guilt allowed if they don’t hold up their end of the bargain).

You can even rethink your dinner menu. Don’t we always end up with WAY too much food? We have to dig out every lidded container we have in the cabinets and grab plastic wrap for the ones without lids and try to convince our guests to take food with them. And, our fridge is still stuffed! Cut back to a few large dishes….or order dinner from a local restaurant or grocery. Sometimes, it’s just as expensive to buy ingredients for numerous recipes.

2. Schedule some fun activities with family and friends that are inexpensive and don’t require a great deal of effort on your part. Don’t schedule too many, though. We often try to participate in every event to which we’re invited to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings. It can become overwhelming when there are no Saturdays in sight for rest and relaxation. 

3. Choose your shopping method based upon your mood. If the crowds cause you anxiety, or rage, shop from the comfort of your couch. On the other hand, being a part of the joy-filled stores might lift your spirits a bit (just tread carefully if you’re an early-morning Black Friday shopper….that’s stress on an entirely different level). Don’t feel guilty if you choose to shop from home. Mall shopping isn’t everyone’s forte and online shopping can sometimes help with financial stress (don’t forget Cyber Monday).

4. Volunteer for something that requires only your time and effort and not a financial commitment. There are lots of opportunities to give back without going to the bank. If overcrowded soup kitchens are anxiety-inducing for you, try a local animal shelter or check out to discover opportunities to volunteer in your area. 

5. Stick to your daily and weekly routines as much as possible. We are creatures of habit and the slightest change can throw everything off, including our sleep. So, avoid highly-caffeinated drinks when those shopping trips run late into the evening and be sure whatever restaurant dinner you have is one you will be comfortable sleeping with later. Don’t ditch usual bedtimes to stay up late wrapping gifts or making desserts. Plenty of rest is essential for surviving holiday stress….and for survival any time of year.

6. Laugh often. The holidays can be tough emotionally. Loss is often felt deepest during celebrations. We also face family members we don’t see regularly who may be critical or judgemental. They may have differing political views or have their own ideas about what we should be doing with our lives. It is important to allow yourself to feel the emotions as they present themselves and to handle them in the manner most appropriate for the situation, but surrounding yourself with laughter can diffuse tension and ligten everyone’s mood. Maybe that’s “Elf” or “Christmas Vacation” on the television or a game of charades. Laughter is not only the best medicine, it’s a great distraction and it’s essential for surviving holiday stress.

Don’t forget yourself this season. It is the “season of giving,” but that doesn’t mean you have to give up your sanity. If you’re too stressed to enjoy the celebrations, your generosity will be overshadowed by your grumpiness. So, consider it a necessity to engage in some self-care.