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You know that woman who glides through the holidays effortlessly turning out fruitcakes, entertaining fractious family members, and thinking up unbelievably perfect gifts without being a wreck inside? We don't, either. Holiday stress is now part of the human condition. As the familiar tension digs its heels in, consider a dose of calm from Alice Domar, PhD, author of Self Nuture and one of our LLuminari experts.
1. Reassess. Create a list of everything you do for the holidays and notice which activities make you queasy even thinking about them. In each case, ask, "Who am I doing this for?" Your husband? Your children? Your mother? If you're going through the motions only to meet your own expectations, perhaps you could cross off that activity this year. If you're doing it for others, suggest something different. Instead of cooking up a huge family Christmas dinner, for example, propose making reservations at a special restaurant. Anxious about the usual New Year's Eve party? Your husband might be more than happy to ditch it and escape with you to a romantic hotel.

2. Check your perfectionism at the door. Are you a working woman who is comparing her baking and tree-trimming efforts with those of someone who doesn't have a full-time job—or with the way your stay-at-home mother handled the holidays? Are you envisioning your Christmas party right out of a movie? "We put so much of this pressure on ourselves," says Domar.

3. Put yourself on the receiving end. Come up with gifts that will benefit you as well as the other person. Instead of getting your friend a $50 sweater, use the money to take both of you for a manicure/pedicure. Buy two tickets to a play or concert. Convince your family to pool what everyone would have spent on presents and hire a massage therapist to give half-hour shoulder rubs as you all sit around at your holiday gathering.

4. Break the routine. If you're losing sleep over where the family should spend the holidays, "start a new tradition," says Domar. If a large get-together is too complicated or torturous, suggest seeing relatives separately. Or arrange for everyone to put their family gift money toward going on a cruise together. If logistics are suffocating, celebrate a month later when travel is easier and fares are cheaper.

5. Buy a few extras. It's everyone's worst nightmare: the beaming acquaintance who shows up unexpectedly with a gift. You can sometimes get away with, "Oh, I haven't wrapped yet," but Domar suggests protecting yourself by having a few extra generic gifts ready—a pretty little vase, a blank journal on nice paper, a lottery ticket. And if the reverse happens—you buy someone a thoughtful, one-of-a-kind treasure and she has nothing for you, or pulls out some $2 trinket? "It's very hard to gauge what other people will spend," says Domar. "They may have a different gift-giving style. They may be having financial difficulty. Don't let it ruin your holiday."

Get a Handle on Your Holiday Stress


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