Once they invent time travel, many of us will line up right after Halloween for the first ticket to January—blip past Seasons Greetings and all things holiday. For now, however, we scuttle on through, worrying about how to seat divorcees and spouse-number-twos around the family turkey.

These solutions will help you keep your sanity during the holidays. Do read them, and don't let the holidays drive you crazy!  

  • Don't cling to visions of a Norman Rockwell family moment. That happens only in paintings.
  • Do consider family problems when planning celebratory gatherings. If your brother drinks too much, avoid a dinner party and throw a dry holiday brunch instead.
  • Don't travel out of guilt. Have an honest conversation with your family about how difficult it is for you to make a trip during the holidays. Suggest visiting, say, in February, when you'll have more time to really see one another. If they don't understand, consider that there may be something wrong on their end.
  • Do be flexible with your partner. Some traditions are definitely worth fighting for—but you may be able to let others go.
  • Don't force yourself to revel. If office parties or family gatherings are painful, honor your need to celebrate in your own private way.
  • Don't isolate yourself. Seek out kindred souls and spend time with them. If you're newly divorced, join a support group, volunteer at a homeless shelter, or shop for elderly neighbors so you have some human contact.
  • Don't spend randomly. Set a limit for gifts—and stick to it.
  • Do talk with your children before the season begins about realistic expectations. With all the TV commercials they see, it's easy for them to expect too much and to be disappointed.
  • Do use a personal shopper if you can afford one, or buy presents online.
  • Don't hesitate to buy the same gift for several people on your list—as long as they don't know one another, who cares?
  • Do take one vacation day early in the holiday season to get all your shopping finished so you can avoid the crowds and the 11th-hour pressure.
  • Do talk with friends and family about gift alternatives. They may love the idea of, say, exchanging services ("I'll help you clean your closets, you help me build bookshelves"), or pooling gift money and donating to a cause, or springing for a day trip instead.
  • Do cut down on time at the post office. Suggest, for those living far away, that instead of giving gifts now, you exchange them later in the year when you see each other.
  • Do remind yourself that the holidays may have been so wonderful in childhood because you had no responsibility for making the magic. If you have grown-up expectations, you won't be so disappointed.
  • Do make a list of all your traditions, from decorating to Christmas caroling. Keep the ones you love (forget about impressing other people), and cross off the ones you don't.
  • Don't think twice about asking guests to bring food to your holiday party. Why should you have to do all the cooking when most people are perfectly happy with a potluck?
  • Don't feel sorry for yourself if you have no parties to go to. Throw your own, and feel good inviting others who may not have invitations themselves.
  • Do have compassion for yourself during the holidays. If you're not in a celebratory mood, you're not the only one.
  • Do seek professional help if life doesn't seem worth living.
  • Do try returning to your old church or synagogue if you're feeling spiritually disconnected; if that doesn't work, go with friends to their places of worship.
  • Don't feel pressured to make a spiritual connection during this holiday. Set it as a goal to work on next year. Knowing you have a plan will help you feel better immediately.
  • Do go into the holiday season with a weight-gain plan: Either choose to enjoy going crazy, knowing you'll have to lose 5 to 10 pounds in the new year; or decide to go a little less crazy, and plan on dropping 2 or 3 pounds come January. If you can't bear the thought of having to diet, commit to being strict during the holidays—but remember, it's your choice.
  • Don't attend events that bring out the worst in you. If you've had (and regretted) a fling at the last one or two holiday parties, maybe sit out the next one.
  • If something does happen that you wish hadn't, forgive yourself, learn from it, resolve to do better, and move on.
  • Do take turns with friends as designated drivers if you enjoy drinking at parties. Or, if you can afford it, hire a cab or limo.
  • Don't go to a party hungry. Eat some soup or fruit salad first.
  • Don't give up your workout. Exercise is one of the best ways to relieve stress.
  • Don't skimp on sleep either—you'll feel cranky and less able than usual to deal with stress. (If you're staying up late, try to get a few extra zzz's in the morning: Throw your hair into a ponytail instead of blow-drying it, or skip reading the newspaper.) Regular insomnia and oversleeping are signs of depression. A counselor or therapist can help.
  • Do plan holiday get-togethers that incorporate fitness, such as sledding parties, snowball fights or long walks with friends.


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