THE BLOG
11/22/2013 05:19 pm ET Updated Jan 25, 2014

Avoiding Holiday Stress -- Can It Be Done?

The holiday season is upon us! The weather has cooled down, airfare prices have gone up, and with all the holiday preparation, stress levels can start to rise. Although the holiday season is meant to be a time of joy, celebration, and quality time with family and friends, stress seems to be inevitable for many people. But does it have to be? Why does stress permeate our vacations and family time?

As a relationship coach, over the years I've found some effective ways to stay more connected and enjoy time with family and friends during the holiday season. Here I'd like to share my top five with you:

1. Practice the art of listening

We think we know how to listen, but often we are focused on what to say in response. Empathy is key to listening, where we practice being fully present. Empathy can help to keep the peace around the house, at the dinner table, and even improve your digestion. Sometimes we just want to be heard, especially during the holiday season where we gather, share and connect with one another.

2. Offer a helping hand to those preparing the house and the meals

Preparing for relatives and friends to join us over the holidays can be extremely stressful. I know when I'm watching TV or playing video games while others are busy making sure everyone's needs are met, something is out of balance. That's why I ask those making preparations whether or not they could use some help. Even if they say, "No," simply being willing to contribute validates the efforts of others and meets an unspoken need for support.

3. Share what you're grateful for

Whether it's through gifts or words, gratitude and acknowledgment are always welcome. Expressing gratitude is not only beneficial for those around you, but studies have shown that it increases your overall well-being. Take time, before arriving at gatherings, to think of a few things you are grateful for; you might be surprised at how it will change your perspective and lift your mood and the mood of others.

4. Take notice of your expectations

Often we're not aware of the pressure we put on ourselves and others to live up to standards we have created. Expectations cloud our perception of others, as we see them only in the image of who we think they should be. It can be hard for us to appreciate parts of them that don't meet our expectations, and this can lead to arguments. Once you're aware of your expectations, you'll be less likely to be disappointed if they're not met, and be more open to connect with those around you.

5. Reflect on previous conflicts and see if you can better understand what caused them

Looking back on previous family gatherings, was active listening employed? Were assumptions made about who in the family was on the best path, career or relationship? Was there a punishing silence when certain subjects were avoided, aka the elephant in the room? If you wish to acknowledge the part you played in any previous conflict, along with a heartfelt apology, it just might be the gift that lasts the longest.