Planning tips and tools for a stress-free Christmas

By Heather Camlot

The days are getting shorter, and we’re not just talking about daylight hours. As the holidays approach, it seems like there are just not enough hours in a day to get everything done.

Women are constantly under pressure to meet competing demands, such as work, family and aging parents, according to a recent report by the Canadian Index of Wellbeing. Some 23 percent of women said they were caught in a time crunch. Now add holiday shopping, cooking and decorating to that already overloaded schedule and we can only imagine the statistic rising as December 25 nears.

The problem, of course, is obvious. With no downtime, the season of joy can quickly turn into the season of sorrow, as all that pressure turns into stress, anxiety and depression.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. With a bit of planning, you can minimize the negative health impacts of the holidays.

Be realistic:  No one can be perfect in every aspect of holiday planning (with the possible exception of Martha Stewart) and no one is expecting perfection. Concentrate on one or two focal points to your holiday party – a magnificent tree, a mouth-watering dessert – and go simple with everything else.

List the gifts and budget: Jot down the people you need to buy gifts for, determine how much you can comfortably spend and stick to that amount.

Plan the menu: When creating a menu for a holiday gathering, pick a variety of dishes – heavy on those that can be made ahead and a sprinkling of those that can’t. Pop the recipes into a calendar, draw up a shopping list for each one and follow your set timeline.

Just say no: Every free minute of your social calendar can be taken up by agreeing to everything that comes your way. It’s okay to say no to a party, to pass on baking cookies for the school performance, to tell your boss you can’t finish a project over the weekend.

Ask for help: Are the kids old enough to set the table? Put them to work. Did you mother-in-law offer to make a dessert? Take her up on it. Sister wants to help clean the dishes after dinner? Absolutely! Doling out duties means fewer things on your plate and more time for a stress-reducing breather (see below).

Take time for you: A full schedule is no reason to drop me-time. Hit the gym, take a walk, or lie down and listen to music. Even 15 minutes of alone time can help calm your nerves and reenergize you for the next task on your list.

Try the following tech tools to make planning a snap:  

Holiday Budget Planner

This Excel spreadsheet from Microsoft Office really puts your financial situation into perspective. Fill in the “budget” column for each section – gifts, packaging, travel, holiday meals, entertainment and miscellaneous – and watch the numbers add up. Post-shopping, complete the “actual” column to see where you did well, where you didn’t and whether you have enough left over to treat yourself to a post-holiday massage. Free

Organized Christmas

If you’re the type who becomes really frazzled as the weeks turn into days and the days turn into hours, you may find Organized Christmas your new best friend. Cynthia Ewer, author of Houseworks: How to Live Clean, Green and Organized at Home, has themed each week from now until Christmas – get cooking, decorate, etc. – and offers several ways to follow her tips, assignments and inspiring words, from email and RSS to Twitter and Facebook.  Free

Martha’s Every Day Food: Fresh & Easy Recipes

With this app, you can search recipes by holiday, create shopping lists, and share recipes and shopping lists (hint, hint).  $1, for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad.

Pocket Yoga

De-stress anywhere and anytime (cookies bake in 12 minutes – go!) with this instructor-led app for iPad ($4) or Blackberry ($4 US).

Now, get organized and relax!

First published November 12,  2010, on WorkLivePlayCafe.com.

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