THE BLOG
11/15/2014 05:18 pm ET Updated Jan 15, 2015

Navigating Holiday Hell, or How I Learned to Love the Holidays

It's no secret that each year, as the holidays approach, anxiety issues begin to percolate.

Whether it's the pushiness of relatives, the apprehension of gathering with difficult family members, or the anticipation of endless lines at the mall and traffic nightmares, for some, the holidays are not all they're cracked up to be. With the season of gathering and giving upon us, I put together a stocking stuffer of five simple tips to help you unwind from old patterns and carve out joyful personal time this holiday season.

Here are my 2014 Holiday Stress Busters:

1. Don't expect a Christmas miracle: Petty family dynamics and dysfunctional conflicts of your childhood will likely be the same this holiday season as in years past. This year, make a choice not participate in the negative dynamics and conflicts of the past. Make a conscious decision to break free of old patterns and choose to look at the holidays from a broader and more personal perspective.

2. Give Unto Others: The best way I know to get out of your own way is to think about others this holiday season. I know many families, including my own, who have made a tradition of serving Christmas dinner at a local community center. Volunteering makes you grateful for what you have, distracts you from petty conflicts and stress, and puts meaning back into the holidays.

3. Give Your Inner Martha Stewart a Rest: Often, we expect too much from ourselves at the holidays, with the cooking, shopping and decorating. We associate the holidays with some idea of domestic goddess perfection, but this is unrealistic and exhausting. Cut back on the Superwoman routine, and if anyone complains that you cut corners this year, they can do it better next year.

4. Thrifty Gifts are Nifty -- Ignore Black Friday and the mall crowds, and make gift giving more fun and less expensive by shopping at unique venues either online or in local stores. I love to scour thrift shops and vintage outlets, where I find the best one-of-a-kind items at a great price. It's also a great idea to support local craftspeople and small neighborhood shops who rely on the holidays for a living. The best gifts are those that touch the heart of the recipient and they are usually found off the beaten path.

5. Leave the Turkey, Take the Meatballs. Make your own individual tradition that creates your own personal joy. I know of one woman who does a Thanksgiving eve dinner with special friends, at the same restaurant every year. It's a spaghetti and meatballs dinner and she has created her own fun and unique event during the stressful holidays. Friends look forward to getting together and it makes the holiday especially joyful.

Resolve to put your personal stamp on the holidays this year. Break free from old, exhausting habits. Less stress, more pleasure. Wouldn't that be a miracle?