11/25/2013 11:47 am ET Updated Jan 25, 2014

5 Tips to Reduce Holiday Stress

The holidays are about to begin, which makes me think about one of my favorite holiday movies for kids. In Sesame Street's Elmo Saves Christmas, Elmo helps Santa get unstuck from the chimney and is granted three wishes. Santa isn't thrilled when Elmo wishes every day is Christmas. To show Elmo what life would be like if everyone had to celebrate Christmas every day, Santa takes him on a journey 193 days into the future.

Of course, the message of the movie is how the joy of the holiday is lost when "celebrating" becomes a daily burden. I know a lot about holiday stress, and it didn't take me 193 days to feel it.

After we moved into our house and had children, I learned firsthand why Santa wasn't happy. I planned big family holiday celebrations with extensive menus and did 99 percent of the shopping, preparation, and cooking. Before family came, the house had to be cleaned and decorated. On top of all the food preparation, I shopped for and wrapped all the presents. I saw myself as a mini Martha Stewart and was just as driven with perfection.

It was exhausting.

As the years went on, I came to enjoy my Martha Stewart role less and less. And then, four years ago, I got cancer. The first holiday season, I was distracted by tests and difficult questions, and the next year, I was healing from two surgeries. The following year, treatment was over, but I spent what little energy I had left on a huge kitchen renovation which was completed just days before Christmas.

Last year was the first year I finally felt ready to stick a toe back into holiday celebrating. I took it slow and was very conscious of not slipping back into old ways. To keep holiday stress at bay, I followed these five tips:

1. Have realistic expectations: My Martha Stewart holiday plans were wildly unrealistic. As a new parent, hosting new grandparents, I felt an overwhelming responsibility to create Norman Rockwell holidays. Since we don't live in oil paintings, this was never going to actually happen. I've learned that the best way to control stress is to control expectations. If each day has a realistic to-do list, there will be success at the end of the day, rather than failure.

2. Slow down: I love watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade every year, but I always hear a starter pistol go off in my head as soon as Santa rolls into Herald Square. It's the official beginning of the race to Christmas Day, and the pressure is immediately on. It doesn't have to be this way. If you're feeling stressed, close your eyes and watch your breath. When multi-tasking gets out of hand, stop and refocus on mindfulness. For me, it helped to remember what those three years were like, and how grateful I am to be beyond them.

3. Enjoy some me time: Don't become so involved with holiday preparations that you forget to take care of yourself. Falling into bed exhausted each night is not rest. Rejuvenate by reading a book, enjoying a cup of tea, getting a spa treatment or simply watching a funny television show in the middle of the day. Running yourself ragged completely diminishes the joy of the holidays and turns celebration into hard labor.

4. Make time for spiritual connection: For the past several years, we travel to my husband's church in Brooklyn during Christmas season. We don't attend mass, but prefer to be there when the church is mostly empty and peaceful and quiet. I've had some amazing moments of silent reflection in that church and it has come to be one of my most treasured Christmas traditions.

5. Have fun: Isn't family fun and togetherness what the holidays are all about? Have a family pajama night in front of the fireplace. Focus on fun and relaxation, rather than on creating the perfect table or moment, and you will see your holiday stress melt away.

With Thanksgiving just a few days away, it's time to take a moment to decide how we want our holidays to go. Let's make a pact to really enjoy this holiday season by slowing down, focusing on fun and scheduling some me time. If you have tips for reducing holiday stress, please take a moment to share them below.

Originally published on WhereWeGoNow.