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Managing Holiday Stress

By Jeannine Athens-Virtue

Holidays are the time of year to seduce the senses and bolster the bonds between family and friends. But even the hardiest of revelers can succumb to holiday stress. Fret not, you weary holiday warriors. Below are tips for managing holiday stress. These holiday stress tips include ways to stay organized, ways to volunteer your time, decorate, shop, cook, and even write cards - all the while making your health and happiness top priorities.

Time Management Tips to Minimize Stress: Stress and depression often go hand in hand. It is estimated that 10 percent of the population experiences depression triggered by stress. You can minimize these unwanted effects by controlling time spent on holiday chores.

-Set limits. Don't try to do everything in one day or one weekend. Map out your holiday schedule, decide how much you can do at any given time and stick with it. Don't forget to ask for help if needed.

-Take time for yourself. It's easy to get burdened with a to-do list but while writing down your To-Dos, remember to pencil in time for relaxation and daily rest. Complete a crossword or Sudoku puzzle. Take a walk, a nap or a long, hot bubble bath. These little mental and physical breaks are quick pick-me-ups that will rejuvenate you.

-Help others. If you have the time, volunteer. If you have the money, cut a check. Helping those less fortunate than you can lift your spirits and remind you what the holidays are about. Suggested organizations include the Arthritis Foundation's Jingle Bell Run, the Marines Toys for Tots Foundation, Meals on Wheels, or even helping the Red Cross with the hurricane victims. Your available time and/or money will dictate whether your benevolent efforts are small or grandiose.

-Remember what's important. Holidays are about family, friends and your religious beliefs, not about who got what gift. Take part in events that make you feel good and say no the others.

-Skip the holiday spirits. Alcohol, a depressant, can dampen your mood. It can affect sleep, increase stress, and exacerbated existing medical conditions.

-Laugh out loud. Remember to enjoy yourself. In fact, make it the number one priority. Laughter is excellent therapy for holiday stress. Even giggles can relax muscles, boost circulation and help dissolve stress.

-Make compromises. If time is getting the best of you, skip the card writing. Instead, multitask your holiday well-wishes. Grab your hands-free headphone and call your friends to wish them happy holidays. Talking to friends and family will boost your spirits. If you still want to send cards, get printed ones to save time.

-Don't create a financial burden. Don't cause added worry and stress by overspending. Simplify gift giving. Ask family members to do a grab-bag gift exchange. Or forego the gift exchange altogether. Enjoy less expensive entertainment by driving to decorated houses or going to free concerts.

Tone Down the Decor: Twinkling lights and poinsettias sprinkled throughout the house and home do wonders for the holiday spirits. However, doing the "Christmas Threw Up On My House" type of over-decorating will push you over the edge. Here are a few tips to help the Griswald in you from going overboard.

-Go artificial. You can buy an artificial tree with the lights already attached. Places like Wal-Mart and The Home Depot will put a tree together for you. To spruce up a room, use artificial wreaths, garland, poinsettias, and holly branches. They won't need watering and won't drop needles, which saves time on maintenance and clean-up.

-For many people, going artificial is almost sacrilegious. If you must have a live tree, take the stand with you. Ask the handler to set the tree in the stand then load and go.

-Lay on lights. If you're lighting the outside, use the ones that lay like a blanket and drape them over bushes and trees.

-Better yet, check your local paper for people advertising to string your lights for a fee. This service is becoming quite popular as time becomes more valuable. If you can't find a company to string your lights, hire a neighborhood boy or girl to do the job.

-Hang together. If you're having a get-together, ask everyone to bring a decoration for the tree. The tree will be trimmed in no time.

-Seek simplicity. Go minimalist. Try a grouping of candles at different lengths. Switch your regular couch pillows with holiday ones.

Ways To Work In Your Workout: Between stuffing the bird and trimming the tree, life gets a bit busy during the holiday season. Don't let the holiday crunch take its effect on your exercise regime. Your workouts will help burn the extra calories you will most likely consume and it will also help ward off the seasonal depression and stress. Here are a few ways to get your exercise in;

-Take three 10-minute workouts during the day instead of trying to chisel out a full 30 minute workout. A 2004 study published in "Medicine & Science in Sports" showed that three 10-minute runs during the day actually resulted in more total calories burned than a single 30-minute run.

-Exercise with a friend. If you exercise with a friend, you're more likely not to break your commitment. Use the time to catch up, vent, release stress.

-Walk during your child's sport event. Walking around the gym or field during your child's sports practice or event will help you burn more calories than sitting on the bleachers.

-Don't park near the door. Whether it's at home or the mall, parking further away can help. Those additional steps do add up during a day of shopping.

Managing the Diet During the Holidays: Avoiding high calorie holiday foods is often difficult. But don't have post-holiday regret by overeating now. Follow these simple guidelines to avoid temptation.

-Set sensible goals. Set a realistic limit on how much you will eat and drink before you go out. Limit your visits to the buffet table and how many items you'll get. Remember to praise yourself afterward for keeping your promises.

-Eat in before you head out. Eating a healthy meal before you leave home for a holiday party will prevent you from overeating. You'll also be able to focus on family and friends.

-Don't mingle near food trays. Try to stay away from tables loaded with hors d'oeuvres or candies and snacks.

-Bring your own. See if you can bring a veggie tray or something else nutritious for you to snack on.

-Inform gift-givers. Let family and friends know that you do not want food as a gift. If they ignore your wishes, you can always give the foods to a homeless shelter.

-Just say "No." It may be difficult to do, but if the host offers you seconds, politely but simply decline their offer.

-Remove food altogether. Instead of meeting friends and family at a home, try getting together at a holiday concert, theatre, museum, or sporting event.

Shop Smart to Relieve Holiday Stress: Instead of walking aimlessly from store to store, follow these do's and don'ts so gift browsing doesn't lose its luster.

-Do browse at home. Visit Web sites or review catalogs of your favorite stores. Make a list of items you want to purchase, call ahead to see if the item is in stock, and have the salesperson hold it for you. Better yet, order by phone or online and save yourself a trip.

-Do map it out. If you are going to numerous stores, set a course of action and stick to it. List where you need to go and what items you need for each store.

-Don't procrastinate. Joining the mayhem of Christmas shoppers between Dec. 10 and Christmas Eve will only add to your stress, and you'll probably spend a lot of time on your feet in long lines. You should plan ahead, start early, and shop at a leisurely pace. Stores are less crowded early or late on weekdays.

-Don't shop the mall. Scarce parking spots and long lines can make the mall a very stressful and unfriendly place. Try to visit main street style shops or open air shopping areas. Parking is usually plentiful, you can visit multiple shops, and you can get some fresh air in between.

-Don't lose your cool. Don't beat yourself up if you can't find exactly what you are looking for. Remember, it's the thought that counts.

Managing Mealtime: Although a home-cooked meal is probably a tradition at your home, long hours over a hot stove can take its toll. Cut down on cooking time and holiday stress by starting a few new traditions.

-Offer a buffet. Why lug all the dishes from the kitchen to the table? Make it a buffet. Line up plates, food, then utensils and napkins. Your guests will enjoy not having to mess with utensils while filling up their plates.

-Make it a potluck. Why do you have to do all the cooking? Ask friends and family if they can bring a certain dish to share.

-Go disposable. Washing dishes doesn't have to be part of the tradition. Use disposable and inexpensive cooking tins. Dixie's Stoneware even offers decorative dining plates and bowls.

-Order out. Leave food preparation to someone else. Local caterers and grocery stores can provide dishes or entire meals.

Go Online For Gifts This Holiday Season: This year, shop in your underwear to sidestep holiday stress. Shopping on the Web saves time and energy that's traditionally spent schlepping from store to store. It's never been easier to find a rare collectible or a sweet sentiment to send to someone over the holidays. Online gift guides and Web-based catalogs provide a clearing-house of gifts that allow you to bookmark a gift idea to come back to later. This further simplifies online searches and purchases. Comparison shopping is much easier online too so aside from saving time, you may also save money by hitting the Web instead of hitting the mall.

Finally, just remember to do what you can to prevent stress from wrecking your holidays. Remember to stop and rest, especially at the first sign that you've overdone it. Be sure to enlist help if needed. Taking time to relax, whether it's listening to music or soaking in a hot tub, will help you better cope with the holidays. And above all, have a happy, healthful and blessed holiday season.

About The Author
Jeannine Virtue is a freelance writer and mother of an Attention Deficit teen.

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