With so much happening, it’s more important than ever to try to avoid stressing out during the festive season. But how do you plan a relaxing holiday after a particularly challenging year?

To start, you can make sure your plans reflect the kind of holiday you want to have. Don't set yourself impossible or difficult goals. Remember, many people aren’t going all out this year. Instead, many of us hope to find happiness in simpler celebrations. Here are a few ways you can keep the celebrations calm.

1. Shop early, shop smart, shop local – or avoid shopping altogether

This year, the huge shift to online shopping has brought deals and convenience to your pre-holiday deliveries. Make your list, and dedicate a couple of evenings to searching, finding and ordering gifts online.

If you're late to the online shopping party, don't sweat it. Many local stores now accommodate online shopping and have curbside pickup as well. You can also support small businesses and all the makers in your communities who’ve been hit hard by COVID-19.

Do you feel like you’ve indulged too much on online shopping this year? Or perhaps you’ve already had to dip into your savings earlier this year to cover COVID-19-related expenses? Then you may want to talk to your family ahead of time about forgoing or setting a budget on gifts. There’s more to the holiday season than gifts. And, there’s a good chance your loved ones will be relieved not to deal with the stress that comes with gift giving.

2. Plan for smaller holiday gatherings

This holiday season, huge bustling parties are out.

Take advantage of smaller, more intimate gatherings to more meaningfully reconnect with the ones you love.

It’s the time of the year for family, friends and fun times. Due to the pandemic, it’s also the time to stay safe and healthy by reducing the spread of illness and keeping to your social bubbles. So skip the elaborate meals, open houses and big bashes. Instead, opt for special dinners and games nights with a few favourite people in your social circle.

3. Keep your holiday decorations simple

When it comes to decorating, resist the urge to gussy up every room in the house. Simple, minimalist décor is all the rage, made from natural materials, like straw, bark and bamboo. Repurpose tree branches indoors and gather pinecones from the garden. Dress up mantels and tables with nature's bounty.

You may find there's no need to buy anything other than plenty of festive candles and lights to transform your home.

4. Let someone else cook the holiday meal

Some people look forward to baking and cooking in the weeks leading up to the holidays. For others, all that prepping can be a source of stress and worry. If that’s you, then this year might be a good time to let someone else fuss over the hors d'oeuvres, the cookie platters and the perfect roast.

With many restaurants hanging on by a thread, this holiday season will be a last-ditch effort to stay afloat. Find out who's baking, who's catering, and who's putting on a feast, and think about supporting them. It's a gift to your community, but an even bigger gift of time to yourself.

5. Find time to practise self-care

Amid all the hustle and bustle the holidays bring, it's essential to make time for yourself.

Take advantage of quiet hours to:

6. Enjoy fun, outdoor winter activities

With winter's shorter days, getting outside is even more important.

Make it a priority to seek out sunlight every day. Block out time in your calendar for some regular jaunts outdoors. Everyone needs daily exposure to natural light, and fresh air is especially welcome when you’re cooped up inside for most of the day. It could be a simple walk around the block or a longer walk in the park or the woods.

Beyond the physical benefits, walking is how many artists jumpstart creativity. So if you're stuck on a gift idea or writing a holiday letter to your loved ones, a walk might help inspire you, too.

More than ever this year, the holidays are a time to cut yourself a break. Focus on what’s important:

  • connecting (whether virtually or in-person) with those closest to you,
  • enjoying the emotional warmth of the season, and
  • taking time to remember what truly matters.