Local author Sara Harvey Yao shares ways to keep the holidays joyous, not exhausting.

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The storybook image of the holiday season is one of relaxation, peace and joyous celebrations with family and friends. But all too often the reality of the season can be quite different. Family dynamics, crammed schedules and overindulgence can leave us exhausted, cranky and emotionally spent.

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When you are spread thin and stressed, it’s easy for your mind to be focused on the past or trying to predict the future. When your mind is on overdrive, you miss the subtleties and richness available in the moment. The magic of the holidays (and life in general) is often in small, authentic moments such as a hug from a loved one, a moment of noticing the beauty around the table or the sensation of a warm drink in your hands. Being present means you are aware of the details of the moment — including what you are experiencing as well as others.

The best gift you can give yourself and others is to be present in the moment. When you take moments to drop in to truly notice the present moment, you are more likely to experience a sense of well-being and satisfaction. The good news is, since presence is your natural state, you don’t have to add another single thing to your holiday to-do list to experience the joy, contentment and peace available to you this season and every moment beyond.

Here are a few tips that will help you stay present, grounded and connected to yourself and others in this busy holiday season.

Return to your intent — When you get swept up in the last-minute shopping, wrapping or food prep, take a pause (even if you think you don’t have time) and reflect on your deepest desire for the experience ahead. By taking a moment to remember your intention, you connect with the power of your heart and after all is said and done, your loving intent is the best gift you could ever give.

Pay attention to the details — When you are stressed or moving too fast you can miss the details of the season. Take a moment or two to pay attention to the details of your experience, such as the color of the lights, the tone of the music or the expression on a loved one’s face. Noticing the details will naturally guide you to the present moment.

Breathe into overwhelm — No matter if it’s the lines, deadlines or another political statement from Uncle Joe, a feeling of being overwhelmed and of irritation can take over and cloud your experience of the holidays. Instead of reacting right away, experiment with taking three deep breaths. The oxygen will relax your nervous system and you will create a moment of presence for you to choose your response. Who knows, you may just save yourself and others from even more holiday stress.

Move your body — Taking a walk, stretching or exercising gives you the opportunity to move from autopilot to presence. When you are moving, try to notice as much as you can about the experience. Perhaps what muscles are moving, what the air feels like or how fast your heart is pumping. Dropping into your body will give you a much-needed breather from the busyness of your mind.

Claim white space — Before you start drowning in the activity of the holidays, create some air pockets for yourself with white-space time. White space is time blocked on your calendar with no preset agenda. It’s the time on your calendar where you get to choose what you do. Always start your white-space time with a few deep breaths to become present and then ask yourself, “What do I need right now?” Or “What am I inspired to do?” White space allows you time to give yourself what you need.

Feel gratitude — It’s easy to move from one experience to the next without really noticing or acknowledging your gratitude. In as many moments as you can, simply stop and acknowledge just how much you have. It might be as simple as your healthy body, your pet, loved ones or the beautiful food. When we are truly present, we tune into the blessing and abundance of simply being alive.