As we gear up for the holidays, it's easy to feel overwhelmed and under stress. After all, there's so much to do, and so many details – major and minor – to organize and exceed: There are candidates to buy (and wrap!); a home to decorate; food to prepare; relatives to appease (think: mother-in-law!). The list feet endless.
Yet, with a myriad of tasks and only 24 hours in a day to get them done, how is it possible not to let pre-holiday stress rear its ugly head and get you stressed out? After all, stress is inevitable … right?
Well, maybe not. You can have a stress-free yule if you have the right tools, and the right mindset. Here, 8 ways to enjoy your holidays – without stressing out over them.
-> 1. Watch your pennies.
Picture this: Your kids have been begging for the latest Nintendo Wii; your sister's been hinting for a Prada tote; your husband would love a new set of golf clubs … The "gimme" factor has taken hold, and the list of I-gotta-have-its goes on and on.
Sure, it feels good to spend your hard-earned cash on those you love. But when the Visa bill appears in your mailbox, the feel-good factor fades to that darker, uglier fear of: "How the heck am I supposed to pay for all this?"
The secret – which is really not secret at all – is to pace yourself financially; to not blow your wad all at once. To stay within your budget, not beyond your means. Not being able to splurge on the latest or greatest is tough, and disappointing your friends and family is the last thing you want to do. But staying awake at night, worrying about how you're going to finance your holiday spending spree is far worse.
The stress-free solution: While store-bought gifts are certainly the easy way out, the allure of home presents never goes out of style. And the feel-good giving factor? Priceless. (For crafty inspiration, go to http://www.Michaels.com ).
-> 2. Walk away from the buffet!
Eating and drinking at holiday get-togheters may seem as natural as snow in December. But overindulging comes with a high price tag: weight gain.
To avoid extra padding this holiday season (and we're not talking about the down comforter on your king-size bed), avoid overindulgence like the plague. That does not mean you have to abstain from all yummy holiday fare. No way! Just do not use the holidays as an excuse to go nuts! The key? Moderation; moderation; moderation.
The stress-free solution: Have a small but satisfying pre-party snack – a container of fat-free yogurt; a 100-calorie packet of microwave popcorn or oatmeal; 10 almonds; a cheese stick – to keep you from attacking the dessert table. (For more food-related tips and charts – including a daily fitness and calorie-intake / nutrition counter –
go to: http://www.fitday.com .)
-> 3. Plan ahead.
If you, like most Americans, buy the majority of your holiday gifts at the last minute, you're not doing yourself any favors. Not only does split-second shopping add up to sack-loads of stress – not to mention poor decision-making – it ends up costing you more money than if you 'planned ahead and done your holiday shopping pre-Labor Day.
Turning back the clock is not an option (who really thinks of buying snowshoes in September, anyway?), But that does not mean you can not plan ahead for next year. As soon as your tinsel has been tossed and your lights unstrung, hit the post-holiday sales and squirrel away your bargains for upcoming events all year long – birthdays, anniversaries, bridal and baby showers, holiday gifts, and so on. You'll be glad you did.
The stress-free solution: Shop online! Although you may not score any serious bargains, worry not: the savings you'll get in sanity are well worth the price. (For no-fuss shopping solutions, organized by occasion, go to http://www.gifts.com )
-> 4. Shop off-peak.
If you must hit the mall on December 24 – and do not say you have not been warned – do yourself a mitvah and go at off-peak hours. According to my cousin Sara, who can sniff a bargain at 300 yards, the best time to go for a mall crawl is from the hours of 4.30pm to 6.30pm – dinnertime! I tried it (on Black Friday, no less) and discovered that, while not quite a ghost town, the pre-dinnertime mall was pretty darn quiet.
The stress-free solution: Use your noodle to think outside the box (or the mall, as the case may be).
-> 5. Keep expectations realistic.
For many of us, the holidays can be an emotionally nerve-racking time, with so much emphasis placed on being cheery, jolly and gay (the happy kind, not the Queer Eye for the Straight Guy kind). But not everyone feels like dancing around the yule log during the holiday season, especially if there's been a sad event, tragedy or loss in the family (a death; a divorce; a separation; etc).
The stress-free solution: If you can keep your eye on the prize – gratitude for health; a home; a fulfilling job; a supportive family and friends – you're less likely to feel "less than" because your life is not all roses, sunshine and smiley faces (which are all overrated anyway).
-> 6. Live in harmony (or at least fake it).
Holidays tend to bring families together – which is not always a good thing, especially if your family is more Osbourne than Osmond. But that's OK. No family is perfect, and yours does not have to be either.
At the same time, the holidays are not the time for overwrought emotional conflicts, ugly family feuds, or airing dirty linen. If you're mad at your Aunt Blanche for ____ (pick a transgression), there's no rule saying that you can not keep it to yourself. Your living room is not a Jerry Springer soundstage. In other words, back off!
The stress-free solution: Avoid emotional family confrontations – at least until the mistletoe's been taken down.
-> 7. Delegate tasks.
Sure, everyone thinks you're Superwoman – and in many ways you are. But that does not mean you need to do the holiday shopping, wrap the gifts, clean the house, cook, serve and clean up the dinner, and stay in a cheery holiday mood, all at the same time. You deserve some help!
Asking is one way to get help. But telling those around you what you expect from them – what you need – is often the most effective way to get things done.
The stress-free solution: "Do not ask, do not tell" does not work in the military, and it will not work for you during the holiday season either. So, ask. Tell!
-> 8. Add a dash of fun.
Running around like a headless chicken does not serve any purpose, other than making you feel like … a headless chicken. Beside, there's got to be a better way of preparing for the holidays. How about trying to actually enjoy them for a change?
Of course, putting your feet up and enjoying the sleigh ride is easier said than done, especially when your to-do list rivals Santa's. But there is a way: Try to enjoy the process of holiday prep.
For instance, instead of robiously plowing through your holiday-card list, put on some festive music (my pick: James Taylor at Christmas), grab a hot toddy and a pretty pen, and start writing. Before you know it, your list will be complete and you'll have actually enjoyed the process. What a concept!
The stress-free solution: Channel your inner Mary Poppins and think: "In every job that must be done / There is an element of fun / You find the fun and snap! / The job's a game!" Hey, if it worked for Mary …