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The Holidays: An Anti-Stress Kit by Piper Maitland

I awoke the other morning and started to panic: Thanksgiving was only five days away. I opened the refrigerator and started to make room for the turkey (a turkey that I have yet to buy), then I had to go lie down and put a rag over my eyes.

Thanksgiving is an American feast day–it also kicks off the holiday season: football games, pumpkin pie, eggnog, bourbon, shopping trips, gift wrap, hype, resentment, duty, and pressure. And it doesn’t stop until New Year’s Day. Until then, we pile on the agony, heaping expectations onto ourselves.

Even if you love the holidays, it can be stressful. Company is coming, and the Halloween stuff is still out. Dust bunnies are breeding under the dining room table. There’s one roll of toilet paper left. The refrigerator is jammed with Diet Coke and heat ‘n serve bacon. Not only that, I can’t find 10 plates that match, much less remember where I put Aunt Tempe’s bowl, the one with the angry smiley face.

It wouldn’t take a minute to dig through the basement storage room…but…what if the clock is ticking and you already have too much on your plate?

If you have a full time job (or young children or elderly relatives or any number of things), then the holidays can feel a tad hectic. The details can quickly pile up while we prepare food, polish the silver, sweep away dust bunnies, and toughen up mentally for narcissistic Aunt Jean’s nitpicking.

Sometimes I know just how a turkey feels.

If you feel a bit overwhelmed, you are not alone. I’m right there with you. Because holidays aren’t just about food. They can be weighted down with baggage. For some people, entering the holiday season is like stepping into a war zone. You don’t want it to be that way; you want this year to be different; yet Aunt Jean is coming, and the pressure kicks into high gear.

The Internet is buzzing with 5 minute cures, ways to de-stress the holidays.

But…does anything really work?

A few years ago, I added humor to the menu. Laughter is the best antidote for stress. It can be used as a shield to deflect verbal barbs that come your way. I bought a spiral notebook at K-Mart and left it in the entry hall. Each year I asked my loved ones to contribute to a small “Thanksgiving list” — one or more things that make them feel thankful. (I will not stress if Aunt Jean won’t participate.)

I will also strive to maintain a level head about the holidays. I will remember that gatherings aren’t always Rockwellian.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.com, (c) Kovacevic

Sometimes real Thanksgivings can be stressful.
But remember that last year’s catastrophe can be this year’s funny bone. Last Thanksgiving, just as my guests were arriving, I set the microwave on fire–and the smoke alarm began to bleat. I couldn’t open the microwave because smoke would fill the kitchen. So Aunt Jean suggested that we could remove the smoke with the vacuum cleaner. It worked.

Piper’s Holiday De-Stressor List:
1. Petting a dog or cat has been proven to lower blood pressure
2. Walk–exercise lowers Cortisol, a stress hormone
3. Add a huge dollop of humor to your menu
4. Literally take a deep breath. Focus on inhaling, exhaling–an instant stress reducer.
5. Draw names to help with small tasks, such as clearing the table, washing dishes, etc.
6. Remember to take groceries to the Food Bank, or participate in a program at your local grocery.
7. Invite a guest who is all alone this year
8. Lower the bar–the one you set for yourself. Not everything has to be homemade, does it? That said, even if your bar is already low, the people around you might have a bar with your name on it–and that bar may be shockingly high. How to deal with that? You can’t. So, buy the frozen sweet potatoes or the dressing at Publix, and call it a day. Do not apologize. Do not explain. And do not take comments (“I hate dressing with sage in it.”) to heart. (See No. 4–breathe.)
9. When you sit down to the dinner table, ask your guests to join hands and to complete the following sentence: “This year, I am thankful for _____.”
10. When the holiday is over, reward yourself–give yourself a gift. It can be time alone or a huge slice of coconut layer cake–and tell yourself that it just might be possible to have your cake and to eat it.

Finally, it helps to remember that the Pilgrims probably got stressed about the menu.

What are your tips to decrease holiday stress? Anything you’re trying this year? Anything you tried last year but it didn’t work?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Courtesy of Berkley, I have a copy of Acquainted With the Night by Piper Maitland for one (1) lucky winner!

Contest is open to US and Canada only. To enter, just fill out the form below. Contest ends December 23. I’ll draw a name on December 24, and notify winner via email.

Good luck!

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