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Joy to Your World: Have a Stress-Free Holiday

Have a truly happy holiday with these family, money and health tips.

Positive thinking tips to have a stress-free holiday

Mom of three Anita Berding thought past Christmases were hectic. A typical December weekend might involve the office holiday party; costume fittings for the kids’ pageants; buying presents for the Brownie troop gift swap, teachers and the neighbors’ party; a quick workout; making photo Christmas cards; ice skating with extended family and an awkward conversation with her brother-in-law. This year Anita remarried, adding two stepsons to her family and a host of new challenges to her holidays. “I’m exhausted just thinking about it!” she says.

Which is how many of us feel when we flip the calendar to November and see the Thanksgiving to New Year’s marathon is about to begin. Whether you’re worried about travel, weight gain, socializing, family tension, gift-buying or all of the above, we’ve got the stress-busters to make your holidays fun again!

So Aunt Sally and Uncle Steve have invited the whole clan to Des Moines. Don’t end up stranded in Denver. With an estimated 60 million travelers hitting the skies and roads this season, you’ll need a little planning to get anywhere without getting stressed.

Try to book as far in advance as you can. If it’s possible to arrive or depart on the big days (Thanksgiving or Christmas) you’ll not only pay less, you’ll have less of a mob to wade through.

Pack carefully. To check up on the latest security restrictions visit tsa.gov. Leave gift-wrapping for your destination. Weigh your luggage beforehand if it seems heavy (check your airline’s website for specific rules). Leave room in your carry-on for a good book, your cell phone and its charger. They’ll come in handy in case of a delay or a cancellation.

Before you leave, check the weather for the city of your connecting flight. If it’s storming, call the airline to reroute. Allow plenty of time to get to the airport and through security (expect longer lines than usual).

If you end up stuck in an airport, strike up a conversation with other stranded travelers. Maybe they know a good Des Moines diner if you get in too late for Sally and Steve’s supper.

Weight Gain
A sliver of pumpkin pie here, a spoonful of gravy there, two dipped chips won’t kill you, right? Actually, you are right! Don’t deprive yourself during the holidays or waste valuable time and energy chiding yourself over a bite of brownie. It’s all about moderation. Focus on maintaining weight, not losing it. You can dive back into your diet next year.

Become a “food snob” and eat only the treats you really want. If Aunt Laura’s pecan pie was never your favorite, skip it, and instead share one of Cousin Katie’s seven-layer bars with your mom.

If you’re the one manning the stove, simple substitutions will make dishes a bit lower in calories, but just as satisfying. For healthier versions of holiday favorites, substitute skim milk for whole, applesauce for oil, Splenda for sugar. Use nonfat evaporated milk to thicken a liquid.

Start a new holiday tradition where everyone goes for a walk or plays football after a meal. Won’t snowman sightings or your dad’s game-winning Hail Mary pass be more memorable than napping?

Parties are supposed to be fun, but for many of us, going to or throwing them is a source of stress. The solution? Keep everything simple.

If you’re the guest, pick up a couple of hostess gifts when you’re doing other November shopping to avoid a day-of-party rush. While you’re at it—does that dress need to go to the cleaners?

The soiree-savvy don’t eat or drink too much. You don’t need the guilt of the extra calories or racy behavior. It’s okay to go to a party for a limited time. Everyone understands how demanding the season is; the host will be happy you made the effort. If you’re anx-ious making small talk, stay seasonal: Will you be traveling somewhere? Have you bought gifts yet? Can you believe this weather?

If you’re the host, only give a party if you truly want to and you have the time. Don’t be afraid to enlist family and friends to help. After all, it’s only fun if you’re not frazzled. Don’t go crazy with decorations or choices of food and beverages. Go with a simple menu and consider making it potluck. Keep everything self-serve: a table for drinks, a table for food. Guests are happy when they can help themselves.

It happens to the best of us. You spend months searching for the perfect present and then Christmas Eve you’re elbowing someone for the last singing fish or going over budget because you can’t show up at get-togethers empty-handed.

The key is to plan ahead, way ahead. If money worries you every year, start budgeting in June, or propose a new plan, like giving to just kids, or a charity, or drawing names so you each give to only one other person. If the mall makes you tense, try online shopping. Or if it’s gift-finding that’s nerve-wracking, make a list—again, early—of ideas and interests for each person. Check out gifts.com or the book Gifted: 1,000 Gift Ideas for Everyone in Your Life.

You know that saying “It’s the thought that counts”? Don’t get bogged down in competitiveness or perfection or let holiday spending get out of control. The cost of the gift won’t be important to the recipient. If money’s tight, get creative with homemade gifts or make coupons for babysitting or cleaning. Remember the reason you’re giving: to make some-one feel loved and appreciated.

The Blues
“We have these illusions that everyone has this happy, loving family in a blissful reunion, with all wishes fulfilled,” says psychologist Jon Allen, Ph.D. “The pressure to feel good and happy is escalated at the holidays. We should not expect weeks of unending happiness. There will be highs and lows as with the rest of the year.”

Allen adds, “With any blues what’s poison is alcohol.” Alcohol is associated with so many holiday functions, and while it may ease stress or anxiety temporarily, it’s actually a catalyst for depression.

To keep the blues at bay, Allen offers some common-sense tips. Be sure to exercise and get enough sleep. Make an effort to do things you enjoy. For most people, social activities provide the greatest pleasure and feeling of connection.

Instead of coming away from the holidays feeling like you didn’t accomplish all your “shoulds,” try reaching out to others. It will take the focus—and pressure—off of you. Look for meaningful moments. The more you’re open to them, the more you’ll find!

Family dynamics can be challenging. We’re disappointed when reality doesn’t match our high expectations of a cozy holiday reunion. Or we find ourselves repeating past frictions:  cringing at Grandma’s sometimes brutal honesty or snapping at a cousin who’s always comparing her life with yours.

“Moderating expectations is a good first step,” says Shelley MacDermid, Ph.D., director of the Center for Families at Purdue University. She also suggests examining your family’s patterns. Are there ways to restructure events to remove the stimulus that causes tension?

Develop and rehearse some strategies to deal with your stress, whether it’s finding questions to draw out a reserved uncle or a graceful way to deflect Dad’s teasing. “Enjoy!” says MacDermid. “Even if these people are annoying, they are your family and they won’t always be there. What do you want to remember?”

Peace on earth? For whom? Lucky you are so caring and popular but when the holidays fly by you’re left exhausted—physically and emotionally. News flash: You don’t need to bake 20 different kinds of cookies, make your own cards, buy gifts for everyone and attend every party.

Prioritize what is most important to you. Be honest with yourself and make conscious choices about which holiday rituals you will participate in. Do you truly enjoy baking? Home decorations? If yes, continue. If no, drop them or leave them to someone else. Try to do several errands in one trip to maximize efficiency. Here are a few items for the top of your Stay Stress-Free list: Exercise, eat and sleep well, make time for spiritual practice and relaxation, and plan ahead.

That’s Anita’s strategy. With five kids celebrating the holidays together in very new circumstances, she’s taken some big steps to bring peace to the season, including finding a work-share partner so she can take time off to spend with her blended family. “My family shouldn’t have to watch a totally stressed-out wild woman whip in and out of their lives,” she says. “I’m blowing off everything except making sure they have an enjoyable holiday!” Sounds like a plan.

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