Feeling the holiday frenzy? Take a deep breath -- we've got tips for carving out essential moments all to yourself.
Topping your wish list every year, up above the silk scarf and the weekend away: Just one hour more in every day. Alas, a 25-hour day is one thing that Santa is just not going to come through on. So we may have to create that extra time we need ourselves. "We all lead busy lives and during the holidays they get even busier. If we don't find a balance we go into burnout and we don't enjoy the time we do spend with loved ones," says Dallas-based time management expert Ann McGee-Cooper, author of Time Management for Unmanageable People (Bantam, 1994).
But rest assured, there are ways that you can find more time -- not more time to do, more time for you -- during the holidays. And that may be one of the best gifts you can give. Follow these examples:
- Take a time tally. You can address all your cards in calligraphy, but do you have to? "People may remember you as the one who does the nice envelopes, but that's admiring, not appreciating," says Pauline Wallin, PhD, a psychologist in private practice in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, and author of Taming Your Inner Brat (Beyond Words, 2001). If such elaborate projects are calming and soothing for you, by all means keep doing them; in that case, the reaction of others is beside the point. But otherwise, feel free to cease and desist -- and reward yourself with some time curled up with a good book.
- Plan ahead -- way ahead. "As a single working woman with married siblings, I have a lot of gifts to buy and not much money. So I start buying gifts for the next year on the day after Christmas, when they're on sale," says Mary, 39, of Rhinebeck, New York. She gets all but the most personal shopping done by November, leaving her time to relax alone at home while everyone else is running around -- and allowing her to enjoy the act and spirit of giving when the time comes.
- Throw yourself a mini party. Erin, 49, from the Madison, Wisconsin area, follows a similar plan, getting most of her shopping done in October. Then she puts on Christmas music and wraps gifts lovingly, not in a hurry, but in peace. (And, like Mary, she's banked more time for herself in December.)
- Do unto others...what's really for you. "I use holiday time to sit alone and write in the kids' baby books," says Massachusetts mom Karen, 39. "I'm always feeling behind on it, and the holidays are a perfect opportunity to catch up, since I'm feeling so sentimental and I want them to have all those memories. And of course, I also find it very soul-enriching and healthy for me."
- Ring single bells. If you're single -- and feeling the holiday pressure to be in a couple -- it might seem like every party is a mate-meeting opportunity too important to miss. But if you don't feel like it, don't go, advises dating coach Robin Gorman Newman, founder of LoveCoach.com. On those nights, not meeting Mr. New Year's Eve will only make you feel worse. "Don't stay in your pj's 365 nights a year, but when you feel like 'celebrating' with an old movie and some popcorn, trust your gut."
- Take time for two, too. Rachel, 30, and her husband, who live near Atlanta, make a point of leaving Christmas lunch with the extended family by 4 p.m. -- so they can sneak off to a movie and spend Christmas night alone with each other. "It's a perfect way to escape all the holiday buzz, and to guarantee us some alone time doing something we love," she says.
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