The most wonderful time of the year? Or the most stressful?

The holiday season can be a time of joy and togetherness as families, friends and co-workers gather for holiday parties, exchange gifts and celebrate the end of the year. But packed schedules, gift pursuits and heightened expectations can also bring on stress and anxiety.

According to Alexandra Noriega, a licensed professional counselor at the IU Northwest Office of Counseling Services, people can take a few simple steps to make the holiday season a little more cheerful and a little less stressful. 

"It's possible to find peaceful moments throughout the holiday season," Noriega said.

Below are five tips for battling holiday stress:

1. Breathe

Simply slowing down and remembering to breathe can be a great way to combat stressful moments. Noriega recommends using the "4-7-8 breathing method" pioneered by Andrew Weil. 

Start by exhaling completely through your mouth, making a "whoosh" sound. Then inhale through your nose to the count of 4. Hold your breath to the count of 7, and then exhale through your mouth to the count of 8. Repeat three times, for a total of four breaths. Additional meditation resources, including recorded, guided meditations, are also available on Healthy IU's website.

2. Reflect on what you're grateful for

"Reflecting on the positive helps with stress reduction," Noriega said. Take a few moments each day -- when you wake up in the morning or before bed -- to reflect, or use a journal to keep track of all the things you are grateful for.

3. Create and stick to a budget 

Buying gifts, hosting parties and decorating for the season can come with a price tag. Being proactive by creating a budget, and then sticking to that budget, can help ease financial worries, Noriega said. Get year-round financial tips through IU's  MoneySmarts program

4. Take time for yourself 

The holiday season can throw us out of our routines, which can compound stress. Among your other holiday commitments, make self-care habits a priority, like getting enough sleep, being physically active, reading a good book or enjoying your morning coffee. And don't be afraid to say "no" to something if you're feeling overextended.

5. Know there is help

Sometimes the holidays can magnify situations of grief and loss, conflict, depression, stress and more. No matter what time of year it is, you are not alone. IU's Employee Assistance Program offers professional, confidential counseling to full-time faculty and staff and their household members. 

Julie Newsom is a communications specialist for Healthy IU.