Have Yourself a Merry Stress-Free Christmas

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Simplify Your Fantasies

Sure, you could skimp by serving store-bought sweets and sending pre-signed cards. But what if you get pleasure out of molding marzipan or writing a personal note to everyone on your carefully cultivated list?

"The key is to be deliberate about how you're spending your time," says Dee Love, a human development specialist in the School of Consumer and Family Sciences at Purdue University, in West Lafayette, Indiana. "So many things about the holidays are special to us because they happen only at this time of year. The temptation is to accumulate more experiences than we or our families can realistically handle."

If you pick out the perfect velvet ribbon to tie up the evergreen boughs on the mantel, then make your famous lemon bars and take them over to the neighbors' party, then get the family dressed up for the holiday concert, and afterward drive everybody to the downtown park to look at the light display, you've just fallen victim to "stressor pileup," says Love. "Instead of enjoying any of these experiences, you end up frazzled, the kids are overstimulated, and everyone feels dissatisfied."

So take stock. Pick one thing to do well, whether it's serving a sit-down dinner for 20 or helping your kids make a gingerbread house. Think about "what you'd really miss if it weren't part of your holiday season" and what you could live without, suggests Barbara Fiese, PhD, chair of psychology at Syracuse University, in upstate New York.

After hearing about how a friend waited in front of a department store at 5 a.m. to buy her child the toy of the moment -- and got knocked down and bruised in the rush -- Alicia Birckhead, 37, decided she could live without shopping for gifts. Now Birckhead, a medical secretary in Fairfield, Pennsylvania, spends hours with her daughters, 10 and 13, making handmade gifts for relatives and close friends. She and her husband have freed up time by scaling back on holiday party going. Invitations to work-related get-togethers get an automatic no -- "we see those people all the time," she points out -- and friends' gatherings rate a yes only if they easily fit the family's schedule. Meanwhile, the girls' apple jellies, handcrafted ornaments, and decorated T-shirts have strengthened connections with the loved ones they don't often see. "When people put that jam on their toast in the morning," says Birckhead, "they're thinking about the person who made it."

Continued on page 3:  Focus Your Efforts


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