The shops are crowded and the weather is cold and this year the credit crunch will most certainly add to the stress of the festive season for many of us.

The pressure to meet the expectations of our family and create a special Christmas — all on a reduced budget, will be challenging to say the least — and that's before the credit card bills come in!

Christmas time can also be a little sad and often difficult not only for those who are single, lonely, sick or bereaved, but also for those who already have strained relationships.

With all these often conflicting pressures, it's hardly surprising that worrying about Christmas can have an adverse effect on our health.

Stress and anxiety are well known for their ability to depress our immune system, leaving us more susceptible to illness.

Be careful

Add to this the change in diet resulting from eating too much with too little exercise, and it's easy to see why Christmas is a time when we really need to be careful.

Use your time effectively over the holiday period.

With the long holiday break ahead, give yourself at least one specific task to do that you have been avoiding throughout the year.

This is the time to do it rather than just looking at it! Do some housekeeping on your computer.

Look at your hard disk and see if it needs tidying up and de-fragging, and, most importantly, is your anti-virus software up to date? If you want to write a book, the holidays can be the opportunity to get the framework together and start to write that first chapter.

Personal goals

Start to create personal goals for 2011 but don't forget to add deadline dates or you have no chance of them becoming a reality.

Christmas is a time of remembrance and thanksgiving.

Key point: Stress busters

1. Plan the festive season well in advance — the holiday should be fun — not an endurance test.

2. Set yourself a budget and stick to it.

3. If you hate crowded shops, try shopping out of hours when stores are open late, or shop on the internet.

4. Make time for other people. Visit an elderly relative or track down a long-lost friend.

5. If you're feeling lonely, make a phone call to a friend or family member.

6. With the pressures of the materialistic society, remember that the best things in life are free.

7. Don't magnify your problems by thinking that everyone else is having a better time than you are. The chances are they are not!

8. Spread a little happiness around. Just a few kind words to a loved one or those two magic words — "Thank you" — could just make all the difference to someone else and help their stress melt away.

The author is a BBC guestbroadcaster and Motivational Speaker. She is CEO of an international stress management and employee wellbeing consultancy based in London. Contact them for proven stress strategies –