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Handling Holiday Stress

by Linda Wasmer Andrews

Once you’ve pinpointed the problems, ask yourself what your true priorities are. Often the pleasures of the season can be dampened by seeming obligations. Do you really want to make the annual trek to your parents’ house, or would you rather take your spouse on a ski trip this year? Do you really want to go to eight different parties, or would you rather limit your socializing to informal get-togethers at your closest friends’ homes? Is elaborate decoration a pleasure or a chore? Are home-cooked feasts enjoyable or exhausting? Instead of acting on “shoulds” and “oughts” this year, plan to do things that bring you and your loved ones genuine satisfaction.

Make sure your plans are grounded in reality. Your holiday doesn’t have to be a picture-perfect experience or a commercial wonderland to be emotionally satisfying and spiritually meaningful. It simply has to be right for you. Take into account your personality, budget, schedule, and family situation, and set a standard that you can live up to. The following tips can help you to keep your expectations realistic and your stress levels lower as the holidays approach.

Getting ready
If buying the right gifts for everyone on your list is usually the top priority — and the biggest headache — in your holiday preparations, why not try to reduce the stress of shopping this year by giving the gift of yourself? Expensive store-bought presents frequently find their way to the back of a closet or the returns and exchanges counter, but gifts of time and attention are always appreciated. Instead of a new necktie, give your spouse an IOU for a romantic candlelit dinner at home, or offer your children or grandchildren an IOU for a trip to the zoo. Homemade gifts are another thoughtful way of showing how much you care without emptying your wallet, and many people find that making crafts is a great stress reliever in itself.

Make a list, and check it twice. Chances are, you will still want to buy at least some gifts, and you may have other expenses for decorating and entertaining. If so, it helps to draw up a shopping list, setting an upper spending limit for each item. Then shop early and stick to your budget, rather than rushing around making last-minute impulse purchases. Shopping online or from a catalogue is a good strategy for avoiding the crowds and reducing hassle. No matter where you shop, don’t forget that a sale isn’t necessarily a bargain if you buy something you didn’t intend to.

If your number one holiday stressor is last-minute madness, learn to budget your time well. In early November, start a two-column master list of holiday-related tasks. In the first column, write each task, and in the second column, write the date by which it needs to be done. As you think of new chores, add them to the list. Begin with the tasks that have the earliest deadlines and allot about 30 minutes per day or a couple of hours per week for these chores. Break up large projects into smaller chunks that fit into your schedule. For example, instead of writing 25 cards in one sitting, try writing one or two a day. Rather than shopping for everyone at once, you might decide to look for just two special gifts a week.

Allow ample time for rest, self-care, and relationships. It’s easy to let your schedule get so hectic that you become tired and run down. It’s also tempting to let your normal diet plan, exercise program, or blood glucose monitoring routine slide when you’re this busy or offered holiday treats everywhere you go. Resist the urge to overdo or overindulge. Instead, set aside at least 20 minutes each day for simply relaxing. Go for a walk, listen to music, read a good book, or take a long bath — whatever is soothing and restful for you. Talking to a supportive friend and sharing a laugh with a loved one is sure to conjure up some holiday cheer.

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