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You love the holidays -- the excitement in the air, the fresh scent of evergreen, promises of delicious food, and the hustle and bustle. The holidays often start out this way. You feel warm and gushy inside, and a rush of goodwill toward others. But soon your to-do list seems endless. Your budget is shrinking, and time is running out. By the time the actual holiday gets here, you're fresh out of goodwill and cheer.
It's tough to hold on to a merry mood when stress elbows its way into the activities. This year, vow to beat the stress before it beats you.1. Time Is the Best Gift
This year, put "quality time" at the top of your to-do list: quality time with your family, friends, neighbors, and special coworkers. Just taking a quiet moment to tell someone how important they are to you can mean so much more than any gift. Consider organizing a casual potluck for your friends and neighbors -- each can bring their favorite holiday dish, and perhaps you can spread the spirit by caroling after the meal. If entertaining stresses you out, get together for lunch at your favorite diner or coffee shop. And whether you've got teens or toddlers, a family movie night is a relaxing way to spend time together.
Probably the No. 1 reason for out-of-control stress is trying to overdo it. If you're planning your own shindig, or sorting out gifts for your extended family, don't feel obligated to make it to every single party, or buy for the whole office. Try our quiz to see if you're in danger of overdoing it.
Does your daydream holiday feature you as the ideal, apron-clad hostess presiding over a magazine-style home? Forget it. Trying to attain perfection could be a recipe for disaster. Better to focus on friends and family, and leave the super-hostess mantle to the professionals.
If you're dedicated to throwing the best party ever, then plan ahead. Decorate the weekend before. Plan a simple menu so you're not slaving in the kitchen while your guests are enjoying the party. Ask your guests to bring appetizers so you can focus on the main course. But ultimately, remember that the best parties happen when the hostess has fun, too.4. Give Yourself a Gift
It's fun to give to others, but in doing so we often forget to treat ourselves. So go ahead and splurge on that sexy red sweater you've been eyeing. Schedule a 30-minute massage. Bake that chocolate cake you've been craving. (You could share the leftovers with your coworkers!) Or plan a quiet evening at home with a special someone and just the lights of the Christmas tree to keep you company.5. Get in Touch with Your Spiritual Side
Whether you're religious or not, the holidays can be a time for giving thanks, and for taking stock of our lives and the larger world around us. Many people find themselves drawn back to church at this time of year. The ritual of the ceremony and the quiet moments of prayer can be soothing, and even humbling; a reminder of the spirit of the season. But if you don't wish to attend an organized religious event, meditation can be an outlet for your psyche. No matter what you decide to do, set aside some time for reflection.
It's been said that most Americans gain, on average, 2 to 5 pounds per year. And it's no wonder, considering the bounty of cakes, cookies, and pies that flood most tables at Christmas and Thanksgiving. How can you say no? Well, the good news is that you can splurge on some desserts, as long as you plan ahead. Find out how and why some simple changes can allow you to treat yourself, without feeling guilty.
Believe it or not, many traditional holiday dishes are good for you! These six superfoods are found in just about every household, and they're packed with nutrients that your body needs.
Overindulging applies to food and drink. Nothing is more humiliating than imbibing too freely at the company party. If your office is buzzing about the dancing fool or wayward lip-lock between coworkers, you want to be the one chuckling along with the group, rather than hiding in the restroom until President's Day.
This isn't just a calorie-saver; it's a sanity-saver during the season of large, boisterous family gatherings. After overeating in an overheated house, you'll welcome the fresh, crisp, and quiet air. If you need an escape plan, volunteer to walk the dog. Or bundle up the kids and take them with you. Family gatherings are stressful, especially if your family can't agree on religion, politics, or even what to eat for dinner. Try to stick to neutral topics, like sports (unless you're in Red Sox-Yankees territory), bargain shopping, or home repairs, as much as possible. If all that togetherness is still pushing you past the boiling point, run an errand or take a stroll.
There's nothing worse than showing up to a merry celebration in your rumpled work clothes. You want to feel lighthearted and special -- not dowdy and professional. Here are five tips for making the transition from work to party, so you can make the most of both.
Put the finishing touches on your office-to-party look with these easy hair ideas.
If you splurged on that off-the-shoulder sweater, you want a 'do that shows off your shoulders and neck. These five festive updos are perfect for the winter season, with step-by-step instructions on how to get that professional look at home.
We all want to give the very best to our loved ones, but don't shop as if the entire GNP of the nation rests on your credit card purchases. Nothing could be more stressful than a flurry of bills that hits just as you're recovering from the festivities.
Instead, think carefully about your gift-giving list, and prioritize. If you've got a group of close friends or extended family on your list, see if they'll participate in a blind gift exchange, like Secret Santa.
Or consolidate your resources: Team up with siblings on your parents' gift, or cousins for your grandparents' gift. Set a spending limit for each person on your list, and stop when you've reached it. Your gift is only a symbol of your love; what really counts is the time you spend and the words you say.
Volunteer at a soup kitchen, collect toys for less fortunate youngsters, or donate your services at your church or synagogue. There are so many needy children and adults around the world; nothing could be more in the spirit than steering some of your good fortune elsewhere.3. Be Creative
Nothing is quite as stress-inducing as too many gifts to buy, and too little cash. Be creative with gifts. Think about baking cookies or breads for your neighbors and coworkers. Frame a photo of a family ancestor for your mother-in-law. Or create a natural air-freshener of a clove-studded orange for your college-age daughter.4. Agree to Forego Gifts
If you find that every year you're opening presents you don't really need or want, talk to your loved ones about foregoing the tradition altogether. Instead, suggest the gift of time. Spend a day baking together. Take a couple hours to drive around to see the Christmas lights. Or transform Christmas Day into "game day," with quiet games for two like backgammon, or a friendly game of poker, or loud team games like charades. Take plenty of snack breaks and eggnog, and you'll definitely catch the true meaning of Christmas.5. Shop Early, or Online
Make a list, check it twice, and then get to it. You'll probably save money if you shop in person, but if you can't get there early enough to steer clear of crowds, the Internet can be your best friend. Sit back and sip your eggnog as the gifts are delivered to your door. Most of your favorite department stores and retailers like Target, Sears, and Wal-Mart all have easy-to-use Web sites. Or check out Amazon.com for everything from kitchen appliances to drills.
Originally published on LHJ.com, October 2004.