10 Tips For a Better-Balanced Holiday Season

The holidays might be the craziest time of year. We need to find the perfect gifts, organize family events, travel, and somehow stay in one piece all at the same time! Susie Orman Schnall knows a thing or two about balance, having talked to scores of women for her popular Balance Project interview series. And she knows just the way to stay balanced for this holiday season, so she shared with us the 10 best tips to finding your holiday "zen"!


No matter how well-balanced your life is, the holidays are about to swoop in and rock your world. Big time. Below, common problems we feel overwhelmed by during the holidays along with tips to ensure this is indeed the most wonderful time of the year.

The Problem: Expecting Perfection

Expectations tend to run high for the holidays. It's normal to want your family and friends to love and appreciate the gifts you chose for them, for your annual dinner to go off without a hitch, for your partner to know exactly which fitness wearable you want. You might also be putting pressure on yourself to uphold family traditions: making homemade latkes on the first night of Hanukkah or having a live tree (minimum six feet) in your living room the day after Thanksgiving. In reality, though, life is unpredictable and being a slave to traditions from your past may not serve you well anymore. Expecting perfection is not only unrealistic, it sets you up for disappointment.

What to Do:

  • Permission Granted. Give yourself permission to stop trying to be all-Martha and to waver from the I've-always-done-it-this-way-so-I-have-to-keep-doing-it-this-way nature of the holidays. Reject perfection and liberate yourself from unnecessarily high expectations.
  • Channel Sheryl. In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg says, "Done is better than perfect." 'Tis.

The Problem: Overcommitting

It's difficult to turn down enticing holiday invitations. Sometimes even the not-so-enticing ones. But when the office party, your niece's school holiday pageant, your best friend's annual potluck and gift exchange, and the annual cousin holiday reunion all happen in the same week, you know it's too much.

Michelle H. of Greenville, SC, says she "tries to fit in time with everybody, even if it means no rest for me." And Jessica C. of San Diego says, "I agree to too many gatherings, dinners, and parties. And I often promise to bring dishes that I just don't have time to prepare. I enjoy seeing my friends and family for the holidays, but driving 100+ miles three weekends in a row is just too much!"

What to Do:

  • Book It. Sit down with a peppermint latte and your calendar and put all of your commitments into your schedule. Double booked? Cancel one of those obligations now. Too much in one week? Try to spread things out over the month and leave yourself white space for both the unexpected and downtime. Be proactive and architect a holiday season that will bring you the most joy.
  • Don't Glorify Busy. Being crazy busy during the holidays doesn't make you look or feel important and full of good cheer. It makes you look and feel frazzled and stressed out. You don't have to go to everything you're invited to. Be discerning, prioritize what commitments are truly important to you, and say no-no-no to the rest.

The Problem: Out-of-Control To-Do List

On a normal day, your job, family obligations, and own self-care can most likely push the boundaries of your available time. Then the holidays come and dump loads more onto your plate. You know the drill: send your holiday cards, buy gifts, decorate your home, RSVP to all those parties, make sure your LBD still fits, finalize travel plans, bake cookies, bake more cookies, and so on and so on until you feel like a Christmas cracker on the verge. Melissa C. from Boca Raton, FL, says she gives so much of her time to everyone and everything around her that it's hard to find the "love, peace and stillness" she needs for herself.

What to Do:

  • Strategize the List. Rather than one long to-do list, make several. First, list the mains: buy gifts, plan holiday party, decorate house. Then, make sublists for each one of those with due dates (Who are the gifts for? What's the budget for each?). Finally, take those action items and schedule them into your planner so you make time to get them done.
  • Take Shortcuts. Who says you have to bake the cookies from scratch, mail personalized handwritten holiday cards, or come up with a MUPE (most unique present ever) for everyone on your list? Buy the cookies from the bakery or don't do them at all this year, email a holiday card (I swear by Smilebox), and send a gift card or a donation in your recipient's name.

The Problem: Buh-Bye, Healthy Living

With all the extra commitments and demands on our time, it can feel impossible to incorporate your regular routine of exercise, sleeping well, and preparing and eating healthy meals. Jillian F. from Los Angeles finds it difficult to "manage my personal health and wellness strategy while exposed to unreal amounts of delicious food and treats at home and at the office."

What to Do:

  • Schedule It: Put your nonnegotiable exercise and sleep time into your calendar and try to stick to it as much as possible. No SoulCycle near your in-laws in Skokie, IL? Go for a run. No 5 a.m. Bikram near your brother's place in Boise, ID? Download a yoga app and do your own practice. Even if you don't get your normal routine in, a quick morning walk or push-ups before bed is better than nothing and will keep you energized to withstand the holiday stress.
  • Live a Little. I'm not suggesting you toss your healthy lifestyle out with the leftover eggnog, but I am saying drink some of that eggnog and enjoy. If you find your willpower waning amidst all the holiday temptations, don't beat yourself up about it. Just be mindful.

The Problem: Staying Sane Amidst Pressure

Annabel M. of Rye, NY, says, "I eat too much. I drink too much. I spend too much. I work myself into an adrenal crash, just to evoke the feeling of peace. My challenge is the contrast between my energy (stress, madness) and the energy I'm trying to create (warmth, quiet joy)." There is a tendency to overindulge during the holidays in almost every regard. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. But when going to the extremes results in added stress, it complicates the ability to enjoy the season.

What to Do:

  • Me Time. Taking time for yourself is not selfish. It's necessary to get through the holidays. Make a list of what nurtures you (curling up with a book? Hiking in the snow? Morning meditation?) and fit it in.
  • Email Vacay. If this will fly at your job, create an email signature that says, "I will only be responding to high-priority emails over the holidays. Please resend any nonurgent emails on January 4."

Susie Orman Schnall's novel The Balance Project has been called The Devil Wears Prada meets Lean In. Susie is also the author of On Grace and writes and speaks about balance for magazines, websites, women's organizations, and corporations. She lives in New York with her husband and three sons.