Most of us have high expectations for the holidays. We want to give (and receive) the perfect gift and cook a flawless meal for the family -- but all the stress can take a toll on our holiday spirit. Here's how to keep smiling throughout the season.
Seasonal Stressor No. 1: You don't have the cash to purchase pricey presents, but you know your friends and family will splurge.
Happiness Helper: If they are true pals and close relatives, they will understand that you can't spend a lot, says Pauline Wallin, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and author of Taming Your Inner Brat. Instead, give the gift of time, says Ronald Nathan, Ph.D., a psychologist and author of The FAST Technique for Stress Relief, a CD relaxation program. For example, create certificates for free baby-sitting, or suggest a Secret Santa gift exchange. It'll cut down your shopping list and save you money.
Bonus! Volunteer at a shelter or soup kitchen. Helping those who are less fortunate can remind you how rich you actually are -- and it'll give you a smile-inducing mood boost, says Nathan.
Seasonal Stressor No. 2: Your nosy aunt asks why you still don't have a boyfriend -- in the middle of a big family dinner.
Happiness Helper: Simply say, "I don't know," and then quickly change the subject, says Wallin. Another tactic is to move the conversation to another room, suggests Wallin. That should distract her so she'll drop the topic. Try: "I was just on my way to the den to talk to Aunt Betty. Would you like to come with me?"
Bonus! If someone is rude to you year after year, discreetly ask the host ahead of time not to sit you close to this person at the table. Being out of her immediate area may keep you off her radar.
Seasonal Stressor No. 3: You just can't seem to juggle it all: the office party, the shopping… not to mention your usual day-to-day responsibilities.
Happiness Helper: Your first instinct may be to stay up until 2 a.m. tackling your to-do list, but you'll actually get more done if you get a good night's rest. According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleeping for seven to nine hours increases your productivity during the day. Focus on the holiday traditions that are most important to you and take shortcuts with other obligations -- it's perfectly fine to purchase store-bought treats instead of baking dozens of cookies. Also, postpone anything that can wait until after the holidays, such as nonemergency appointments.
Bonus! Try this quick relaxation technique: Close your eyes and breathe deeply from your belly.
Seasonal Stressor No. 4: Many of your friends are unable to attend your annual holiday party.
Happiness Helper: "You can still have fun at a smaller gathering," says Wallin. Try a Yankee Swap (also known as a White Elephant Gift Exchange), hand out entertaining favors (such as scratch-off lottery tickets) or set up a make-your-own-bellini station. Next year, why not plan a crafting night where your friends get together to make cute homemade presents? That way, your friends can cross tasks off their lists and socialize at the same time.
Bonus! Bring out the board games. Game night could be a blast if you have a smaller group. Try interactive, lively games like charades, Pictionary or Catch Phrase!
Seasonal Stressor No. 5: You've already gained 5 pounds from all those goodies at holiday parties.
Happiness Helper: Never attend a party without an eating plan. Resolve to make healthy food choices at the party, and go for vegetables, a handful of nuts or lean protein such as shrimp. Skip sauces, dips and dressings -- the calories really add up, says Angela Ginn, a registered dietitian and an American Dietetic Association spokeswoman. Another tip: Make sure everything you put in your mouth hits a plate first. When you actually see the amount you are eating, you're more likely to consume less. Or bring a healthy dish, such as a fruit platter with low-fat yogurt dip, suggests Ginn.
Bonus! Add some activity to your festivities. Talk a walk around the block, play with your kids or suggest an interactive game of Wii.
Emily Hendricks Turnier is an Indianapolis-based freelance writer. She is a former senior editor of All You magazine and her work has appeared in Glamour. She also blogs at WhatToExpect.com
Copyright (c) 2010 Studio One Networks. All rights reserved.
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