Happy Holidays! This time of year often brings feelings of glee, twinkling lights, bright cheery smiles and ugly red sweaters, but it can also be a busy and sometimes overwhelming time. The days are darker, gloomier, budgets can be tight, driving is more stressful, the list goes on. So with that I have some personal holiday survival practices I’d like to share and also a few season must-haves.

Don’t sweat the small stuff. Be thankful for what you have, big or small. I am so thankful for my family, a warm place to call home and a full belly (of food that is, don’t need to be starting any rumors). It’s easy to get wrapped up in the idea that our holiday parties and dinners must be grand, perfect, every hair and chair in place. That’s a lot of puzzle pieces to put together and keep that way when life can be unpredictable and messy. So cherish the mess, unless it’s Legos, those things kill to step on. Mess means we have things to do, people to see and life to live.

When all else fails, casseroles. Who doesn’t like casseroles?! There are a number of good recipes Online, I choose to look at Pintrest. My favorite casserole is chicken and dumpling. It’s easy and I can eat it for days and I consider it relatively healthy. And if you’re already going to make one meal, why not make another and pop it in the freezer for later!

Make your own traditions to look forward to. Growing up, and to this day, Christmas to me means soccer and the annual Holiday Cup Soccer Tournament. For more than 15 years I’ve played in the tournament, usually with a soccer game either everyday or every other day of the week leading up to Christmas and then the week after. It’s wonderful to be active, to see friendly albeit competitive faces on the turf that I’ve seen year after year.  And this ties in with my next season essential, exercise.

Exercise is really important, especially this time of year. I’ll be the first to admit, I get SAD, or seasonal affective disorder if I’m not diligent about keeping the winter blues away. Even if it’s just a walk outside in the slush or freezing weather for 15 minutes, the fresh air clears the mind and is good for the soul and is a good reminder that there is a hustle and bustle of life out there which is hard to remember sometimes when we are stuffed indoors more frequently.  Exercise is a crucial element to keep a good physical and mental balance.

Eating right. Personally, I feel food can either do a lot of good or a lot of bad to your body and what you eat is the foundation or building blocks to health. With anything moderation is key. Treat yourself to a cupcake or goody but do eat a healthy serving of veggies more often than not, and if you’re too busy for that, throw a handful of spinach in a smoothie! I also try to cut out processed foods because personally eating ingredients I cannot pronounce doesn’t sit well with me. Eating well helps me both physically and mentally, which in turn helps keep my attitude cheery and my energy level up.

And lastly, my Holiday must-haves: pine tree smell, Christmas music and pajamas! I must have pine scented something, whether it be oils, candles or the real deal. I love the smell of a Christmas tree but for the last few years my husband and I have had this tiny fake Christmas tree we’ve used. Mostly we didn’t want the cat to get into the needles or climb it and now we have a little one and everything goes in the mouth but I have to get the smell somehow. Then there’s Christmas music. I am one of those people who secretly listens to Christmas music before Thanksgiving. I love a good holiday jingle, classic, new, or silly!  And lastly, pajamas. There is something about a winter morning, cup of coffee, and wearing fun fuzzy pajamas, it makes it all the more magical.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you and your loved ones, it’s been an eventful 2016 and I am looking forward to what 2017 has to offer. See you in the New Year!

Anna Hoke is the graphic designer and owner of Southeast Living Magazine. She can be reached at anna@seakliving.com.