Tips For A Stress-Free Holiday
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While the holiday season is known as the most wonderful time of the year, it's also notoriously stressful. For every turkey, there's a to-do list, and with each festive tune you hear, there's the reminder that you only have so many days left to get everything done. To help you manage your winter worries, we asked stress expert Debbie Mandel, author of Addicted to Stress, to share her advice for handling some of the most common sources of holiday strain.
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Braving the holiday shopping scene is not for the faint of heart. Mandel suggests shopping online whenever possible ("Those special bargain codes make it even more delightful," she says) and to make a game plan if you must head to the mall. "Stress management means being prepared, like rehearsing before you give a presentation—the same with shopping," she says. "Visualize beforehand the successful completion of your trip the way athletes view themselves winning a competition."
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Securing this year's "it" toy is a priority for many parents. No matter our budgets, we all want our children to be happy when it's time to open gifts. But Mandel notes that it's up to you to set the example for what the holiday spirit is really about. "Find a toy or craft that meshes with your child's interests and opt for that instead of the unaffordable or the unavailable," she suggests. "Children love spontaneity and simplicity. If you feel good about the gift and give it with a happy heart, your child will receive it in this spirit."
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Whether it's your boss, your neighbor or that person who unexpectedly got you a gift, some people on your list may have you stumped. "If you don't know the recipient well, give a basket of cheer," suggests Mandel. "Include wine, crackers, nuts and chocolate or home-baked goods—it could even have a theme like 'The Swiss Alps' or 'French Farm House' with appropriate foods from the region."
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If you're meeting your partner's family for the first time this holiday season, then just being yourself is often enough. "The best way to meet these new family members is to know who you are and what you bring to the table of life," says Mandel. She encourages showing your sense of humor and doling out genuine compliments. But if you get frazzled, then "take a walk outside wearing headphones for fusion stress management therapy." Sunlight helps manufacture feel-good hormone serotonin, and good tunes will calm you.
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Hanging with your own clan might also bring anxiety. Emotions can run high among people who know us best, if only because they know just how to push our buttons. "Come prepared with some good answers for those annual criticisms," says Mandel, advising to err on the side of humor. She also suggests telling your family in advance that you'll embark on some solo activities during your visit. That way, a needed escape is part of the plan and not seen as a slight.
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Deciding where to spend the holidays is no easy task. "Women tend to feel responsible for everyone's happiness, and this is an overwhelming responsibility leading to sadness and fatigue," says Mandel. She suggests aiming for compromise, whether it's alternating sides of the family, celebrating on a different day, or even booking a vacation, if necessary.
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Whether you're flying or driving, travel hiccups are inevitable this time of year. "Be prepared emotionally and physically with realistic expectations," advises Mandel, and try to find small joys in the journey. "Cultivate a photographic eye and observe others, even strike up conversations so you can enjoy where you are in the moment."
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When you're hosting a holiday soiree, Mandel says that the most important thing is to enjoy your company. "Many women refuse to delegate, resulting in a fatigued, irritable, nowhere-to-be seen hostess," she warns. She suggests buying a few prepared dishes, so you can spend less time bent over a hot stove and more time chatting with your guests.
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As guilt-inducing as it can be, turning down an invitation to a holiday gathering might be necessary for maintaining your sanity this season. Avoid a "lengthy dissertation" with your RSVP, suggests Mandel. "You can preface that you would love to attend, but keep it simple," she says. "When you go on and on embellishing the excuse, suspicions arise."
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It's easy to get so wrapped up in everything you have to do during this time of year that you end up not really getting to enjoy the season—a source of stress in itself. "I advise women to become 'healthy narcissists,' says Mandel. She explains that stress is driven by personal perception, and urges women to part with their to-do lists when they can. "Create time to find that hidden girl within who knows how to have fun and not feel guilty about being happy."