You’ve just started to buy presents, you still haven’t gone out to get a Christmas tree and your work schedule is not cooperating with the personal demands of the season. Between decorating, parties, gift giving, card writing and traveling, the holidays have somehow become synonymous with stress.

Knowing how stress can affect the brain and the body, I encourage you all to take time this season to slow down and simplify your holidays.

Here are my quick tips for making the holidays less stressful:

  • Be sure to take time out for you this season. Enjoy a quiet warm bath with candlelight and aromatherapy as a time out gift to yourself. Schedule a massage and a pedicure at the end of the week.
  • Instead of rushing around trying to find the perfect gifts to buy, make gifts for friends and relatives with the recipients in mind. For example, make a batch of Aunt Sally’s favorite peanut butter cookies or make jams and preserves for your friend Karen who loves to cook.
  • If you do go to the mall for gift shopping, give yourself enough time to shop at a slow pace, or use the opportunity to walk a few times around the mall to get some exercise, which we often tend to not get as much of during the winter months. Or, my personal favorite is to let my fingers do the shopping by using catalogs to purchase holiday gifts.
  • Breathe. Whenever you start to feel overwhelmed by the To Do’s of the season, stop where you are and take deep breaths in and out. The benefits of simple breath exercises are incredible.
  • Make the most of time with family and ask your family elders to share stories about holidays from their youth. Life is a collection of memories, and while technology can store countless photos, few things can compare to the time honored tradition of stories handed down between generations to make you slow down and appreciate the past and present.
  • If the thought of addressing holiday cards in December stresses you out, consider outsourcing this task. There are companies that will choose your holiday cards, address them and mail them for you with just a few clicks on the computer. If that’s too impersonal for you, consider sending New Year’s cards after the busiest weeks are over, when you can also benefit from holiday discounts.
  • Let go of unrealistic expectations when it comes to other people’s behavior. We often place additional high expectations on friends, family, co-workers and even strangers during the holidays. We expect people to be constantly cheerful and to act as we think they should act. Remember that we don’t know what struggles other people may be enduring, and we can neither possess nor control anyone.
  • Each morning, write a gratitude list consisting of five things you are grateful for that day. Reflecting on what we have helps us release some of those unrealistic expectations that revolve around the things in life that do not really matter as much.

By simplifying your life and managing expectations during this time of the year, you can focus on what is really important: family, community, compassion, and togetherness. By taking the focus off of the hustle, bustle and the commercialism of the holidays, we help reduce the stress in our lives, and learn to enjoy a stress-free holiday season that is full of meaning and memories.

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  • Dr. Gail Gross

    Author and Parenting, Relationships, and Human Behavior Expert

    Dr. Gail Gross, Ph.D., Ed.D., M.Ed., a member of the American Psychological Association (APA) and member of APA Division 39, is a nationally recognized family, child development, and human behavior expert, author, and educator. Her positive and integrative approach to difficult issues helps families navigate today’s complex problems. Dr. Gross is frequently called upon by national and regional media to offer her insight on topics involving family relationships, education, behavior, and development issues. A dependable authority, Dr. Gross has contributed to broadcast, print and online media including CNN, the Today Show, CNBC's The Doctors, Hollywood Reporter, FOX radio, FOX’s The O’Reilly Factor, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Times of India, People magazine, Parents magazine, Scholastic Parent and Child Magazine, USA Today, Univision, ABC, CBS, and KHOU's Great Day Houston Show. She is a veteran radio talk show host as well as the host of the nationally syndicated PBS program, “Let’s Talk.” Also, Dr. Gross has written a semi-weekly blog for The Huffington Post and has blogged at since 2013. Recently, Houston Women's Magazine named her One of Houston's Most Influential Women of 2016. Dr. Gross is a longtime leader in finding solutions to the nation’s toughest education challenges. She co-founded the first-of-its kind Cuney Home School with her husband Jenard, in partnership with Texas Southern University. The school serves as a national model for improving the academic performance of students from housing projects by engaging the parents. Dr. Gross also has a public school elementary and secondary campus in Texas that has been named for her. Additionally, she recently completed leading a landmark, year-long study in the Houston Independent School District to examine how stress-reduction affects academics, attendance, and bullying in elementary school students, and a second study on stress and its effects on learning. Such work has earned her accolades from distinguished leaders such as the Dalai Lama, who presented her with the first Spirit of Freedom award in 1998. More recently, she was honored in 2013 with the Jung Institute award. She also received the Good Heart Humanitarian Award from Jewish Women International, Perth Amboy High School Hall of Fame Award, the Great Texan of the Year Award, the Houston Best Dressed Hall of Fame Award, Trailblazer Award, Get Real New York City Convention's 2014 Blogging Award, and Woman of Influence Award. Dr. Gross’ book, The Only Way Out Is Through, is available on Amazon now and offers strategies for life’s transitions including coping with loss, drawing from dealing with the death of her own daughter. Her next book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, is also available on Amazon now and teaches parents how to enhance their child’s learning potential by understanding and recognizing their various development stages. And her first research book was published by Random House in 1987 on health and skin care titled Beautiful Skin. Dr. Gross has created 8 audio tapes on relaxation and stress reduction that can be purchased on Most recently, Dr. Gross’s book, The Only Way Out is Through, was named a Next Generation Indie Book Awards Silver Medal finalist in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the categories of Death & Dying as well as Grief. Her latest book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, was the National Parenting Product Awards winner in 2019, the Nautilus Book Awards winner in 2019, ranked the No. 1 Best New Parenting Book in 2019 and listed among the Top 10 Parenting Books to Read in 2020 by BookAuthority, as well as the Next Generation Indie Book Awards Gold Medal winner in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the category of How-To. Dr. Gross received a BS in Education and an Ed.D. (Doctorate of Education) with a specialty in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Houston. She earned her Master’s degree in Secondary Education with a focus on Psychology from the University of St. Thomas in Houston. Dr. Gross received her second PhD in Psychology, with a concentration in Jungian studies. Dr. Gross was the recipient of Kappa Delta Pi An International Honor Society in Education. Dr. Gross was elected member of the International English Honor Society Sigma Tau Delta.