12/01/2011 08:11 am ET Updated Jan 31, 2012

6 Ways to Get a Handle on Holiday Stress

It's supposed to be the "most wonderful time of the year." But if you're already on the high wire juggling your time, finances, and energy, then the holidays can disrupt the delicate balancing act. If you're feeling more like Scrooge than Santa, then it's time to wake up and turn the situation around.

These six simple tips can help you get a handle on your stress and usher in the holidays with a new attitude.

Joy to the World -- When you're out shopping, take a moment to look at the throngs of people around you and notice that each person is just like you: they have joys and struggles, dreams and disappointments, people to shop for and people they miss. Connect for a moment to our common human condition and mentally wish people well. Think, "May you know peace," or "I wish you a happy day." When you open your heart with compassion, you begin to feel less isolated, more connected, and simply more joyful.

Deck the Halls -- When you're feeling stressed by a holiday activity (such as decorating your home, wrapping gifts, or sending cards), make each task a party. Turn on upbeat music, treat yourself to a festive drink, and immerse yourself in the activity at hand. Be present. Be intentional. Make it fun. Notice how you can slow down and redirect your mind from stressful thoughts to intentional enjoyment.

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire -- When you're baking or making holiday dishes, stop and spend some time deeply inhaling the different aromas. The smells of the holidays are some of the best: cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, cranberries, mulled wine, oranges, ginger. Treat your kitchen as an aromatherapy spa center -- spend some time breathing in the heavenly fragrances. Notice how your mind empties and pleasure fills its place when you stop and smell the... spices.

Silent Night -- The shorter days and longer nights of the season offer us a chance to create some magical night light. Make it a practice of lighting candles and creating a softer ambiance in your home. Spend some time gazing into the depths of the flames. These moments of stillness will have a relaxing and hypnotic effect that will help you calm your body and your mind in the evening.

Twelve Days of Christmas -- BREATHE. If you feel yourself getting overwhelmed by too much Christmas, stop, drop your shoulders, and try this breathing technique: inhale to the count of five, hold to the count of five and exhale slowly through your mouth to the count of five. Then do another round. Deep breathing and long exhalations are quick and effective ways of shifting your body into relaxation mode. A few of these breaths will leave you as calm as a partridge in a pear tree!

Winter Wonderland -- If you're feeling stressed or depressed, take a minute and imagine that this is your last holiday season on earth. Against the backdrop of life's impermanence, look at each and every detail with wonder. Linger over and savor every subtle delight. Greet your friends and loved ones as if for the last time. Gain perspective on this holiday and see it with fresh, grateful eyes. You won't want to waste a minute of it.

Even amidst our annual traditions, every year is truly a once-in-a-lifetime event, never to be repeated. So weave these simple practices into your season and you'll go from "hum bug" to "ho ho ho" in no time.

Ashley Davis Bush, LCSW is a psychotherapist and author of Shortcuts to Inner Peace: 70 Simple Paths to Everyday Serenity. For more resources, visit