For most people, the holiday season is a time of reflection, tradition, and joy. For some, the holiday season brings ever rising levels of panic, stress and even depression. Since we are all experiencing very similar situations – visits from family, additional financial strain, traffic, shopping, work deadlines, travel and even the distractions of nostalgia – why is there such a broad range of reactions and emotional responses from one person to another?

What is for certain is that whatever holiday stressor we’re experiencing, that stressor itself has little to do with our reaction. Our reactions are much more about how we naturally cope with any kind of stressor, not just holiday stress. If our tendency is to get angry in gridlocked traffic, it’s likely we’ll get angry during holiday traffic as well. Stressful family visits are likely stressful no matter when they occur. And people that simply chuckle at other rude people rather than getting angry themselves, are usually that way year around.

If you’re looking for ways to keep from turning into the Grinch during the holidays, start by changing your thoughts, expectations and approach. Instead of thinking the holidays are a chaotic blur of obligations, think of the season as a little project with a beginning, middle and end, and try to manage it like you would any work project: develop a plan, figure out the steps in advance, prepare to make decisions, take charge and move forward.

Here are a few ways to prepare for the days ahead:

Don’t let tradition rule you

Some traditions are pleasant, while others can fill you with dread. If you’re doing something every year that brings you little or no joy, then it’s time to table that tradition and come up with a new one. Hate traveling to far-flung relatives every year for holiday dinners? Then create a new tradition that better suits your needs – and agree to travel every other year. Always scrambling to get those holiday cards out to everyone on your list? Give yourself and the earth a break by sending electronic cards instead. No paper, no envelopes, no stamps, no gas – no problem.

Make it a silent night, or afternoon

OK, perhaps total silence isn’t entirely possible at this time of year, but tuning out much of the noise is. During the holiday season make a special effort to find quiet time every day, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Meditation and Yoga, either on your own or in a group, is a wonderful way to bring mind and body back to a calm, peaceful state amidst the holiday chaos.

Embrace the negative

“No” can be a liberating word – but many people are reluctant to utter it, particularly during the holidays. This season, perfect the art. Just say no to social engagements with a simple “I’d love to but…” to let the host down gently. If you are not comfortable with this, then think of ways to work around over-booking yourself. For events that you absolutely must attend, don’t force yourself to spend the entire evening. Instead go for an hour or two.

Gift yourself with health

Though it may be harder to find time during the holidays, commit to maintaining your fitness routine. Maybe it won’t be as long or intense as you usually do, but do as much as you can. Food and drink too can affect your mood and well being. Watching what you eat is tough during the festivities, but staying aware of how it affects you, and certainly cutting back on the alcohol, all help to keep a more healthy state of mind. Not only will you reap the physical health benefits, but diet and exercise will also help you maintain a sense of mental balance and control despite the chaos of the season.

Expect that some things won’t go to plan

The biggest stressor of all is when the perfect plans fail, when things don’t go our way, and when plans change unexpectedly or last minute. Accepting that we can’t control everything, or anything, is very liberating. As difficult as it may be to accept, we really do have a choice about what makes us upset or angry. Choosing simply not to react to everything from rude shoppers, to crazy drivers, to opinionated relatives, is all a matter of accepting things as they are, rather than as we wish them to be.

The joy and happiness of the season can shine through if we change our approach, plan for the things we can and choose to respond in a more positive way.