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Holiday Stress Busters

Cooking, cleaning, party-going, party-giving, visiting relatives, relatives visiting—welcome to the holidays! If you are the one who's mostly in charge of making the holidays bright, odds are for you may need a little pick-me-up yourself.

Refresh and Relax

Long to-do list? Make sure to put yourself on it. Budget 15 minutes every few hours for a bit of relaxation. The Herbal Home Spa and these other books can help de-stress the holidays:

Prevention's Best Stress Busters
Diet, attitude and exercise suggestions to get you through the holiday season healthier from the editors at Prevention magazine.

The Working Woman's Guide to Managing Stress by J. Robin Powell
Insomnia, ulcers, backaches, and heart disease-not very nice Christmas presents, but if you're stressing from doing too much they may be your gifts to yourself this season. Learn how to manage stress in a busy life.

The Herbal Home Spa: Naturally Refreshing Wraps, Rubs, Lotions, Masks, Oils, and Scrubs by Greta Breedlove
If you can't schedule or can't afford time at a spa during the holidays consider this book as a practical substitute: "…easy recipes include facial steams, scrubs, masks, and lip balms; massage oils, baths, rubs, and wraps; hand, nail, and foot treatments; and shampoos, dyes, and conditioners. Includes bathing rituals and massage techniques."

The Big Book of Relaxation by Larry Blumenfield
Covers relaxation techniques such as seated yoga, music therapy, proper nutrition, and aromatic oils.

Everyday Calm: Relaxing Rituals for Busy People by Darrin Zeer
"…offers over 50 fun and simple ideas for daily stress relief no matter where you are."
From the author of Office Yoga and Office Spa.

Revive Your Holiday Spirit

If you celebrate the holidays as part of your religion, try to focus on the spiritual aspects of the celebrations. Consider a checking out a book of short stories such as The Power of Light: Eight Stories for Hanukkah by Isaac Bashevis Singer and Angels & Other Strangers by Katherine Paterson. If you have children with you for the holidays, you can find many, many picture books to share at the library. You can see some selections on our lists, Hanukkah: Light up the Night, Magical Christmas Books and Celebrate Kwanzaa!

One of the meaningful pleasures of the holidays is giving help to those who need it. Homeless shelters, food banks, and toy donation programs—to name just a few possibilities, are ways to establish real links to others during the holiday season. Your church or synagogue may already have established outreach programs, or you can visit the Rappahannock region's FINDHelp page and your local United Way office to discover ways to help.

Don't Over-schedule

Cell phone, coffee, and pdaDoubtless you are perfectly capable of making hot rolls and two special casseroles and beef Wellingtons and a dream of homemade puff pastry and whipped cream and plates of exquisite Christmas cookies and a Yule log and mulled wine and really most anything else you put your mind to. However, unless you have a competent staff it is unlikely you will be able to turn around all of these delights in a short amount of time while getting the house in order and finishing the Christmas shopping.

Rest assured there are hundreds of terrific ideas for holiday menus, and you simply can not do them all. First thing, limit the number of dishes you will make before you begin. Even if you are trying to cater to special diets, for your sanity's sake do not have two of every kind of course.

As to shopping, you may not be able to afford a personal shopper but online shopping sprees can provide a good solution. For time-stressed shoppers who can't afford to wait for the mail, big stores such as Borders and Wal-mart allow people to search their inventories online and place items on hold for pick up locally.

For more suggestions on how to keep the holidays light and bright, try these titles:

Saving Dinner for the Holidays: Menus, Recipes, Shopping Lists, and Timelines for Spectacular, Stress-free Holidays and Family Celebrations by Leanne Ely
Find yourself stressing not just in December but throughout the year—anytime there's a party or a dinner that's supposed to be the perfect reflection of you and your hostess abilities. Leanne brings recipes and planning tips to make all the holiday tables, from Valentine's Day through New Year's, lovely and enjoyable.

Simplify Your Christmas: 100 Ways to Reduce the Stress and Recapture the Joy of the Holidays by Elaine St. James
Those who are believe themselves permanently stuck in bah-humbug mode but nonetheless are responsible for keeping Christmas may find words of wisdom here.

Guests without Stress: A Cookbook : Great Recipes and Menus to Make Ahead by Elizabeth Hill, Martha Starr, Ann Upton
Got to do a dinner party and know that you don't know what you're doing? Aside from budding network food stars, most people do not cook well under pressure. Here are planned menus and more than 80 recipes to help you make it look effortless.

Difficult Situations

Some people find holiday gatherings to be excruciating. They may cover up their own anxieties in social situations with decidedly antisocial behaviors. These folks are the ones who find a quiet corner to be alone or a seat near the well-stocked bar. Whether wallflowers or party animals, their need to be with people is overshadowed by their inability to mingle easily with others without the lubrication of alcohol. The Highly Sensitive Person's Survival Guide can help de-stress the shy ones, and Seven Weeks to Safe Social Drinking can help people who tend to drink too much but are not alcoholics develop healthier habits.

While social anxiety is obvious in adults, young children are equally susceptible to it, and the holidays can be hard on them, too. "Don't be shy!" "Look at your grandfather when he talks to you," and "How about a kiss?" are all words to get the kids squirming. Bernardo Carducci's The Shyness Breakthrough addresses dealing with shy behaviors.

For some families with special needs kids, the holidays pile on more stresses. What a "normal" child would experience and share during the holidays may not be the same for these kids. They may not be able to say "Santa." They may not be able to open their presents. They may have no idea it's Hanukkah or Christmas. For families who are struggling in these situations the holidays can be beyond stressful. They can be downright clinically depressing. In addition to seeking counseling, the book Married with Special-needs Children offers some bibliotherapy for couples whose marriages are strained by these circumstances.

Grieving people may need the holidays more than anyone, but the pain associated with missing loved ones can make large gatherings hard to bear. There will probably be tears, but the joys of being with those who remain can be a tremendous help. Your willingness to give these folks a welcoming place at your holiday get-together may be the best gift they receive.

In the case of divorce (particularly if there are children involved), the etiquette of how to approach these people with whom you are breaking bread yet who may grieve you by their very presence is tricky as well as necessary. Are there guidelines for handling this all too common situation? Yes, there are. Rather than digging through the 800-page etiquette books for a few basic pieces of advice, consider checking out Ex-Etiquette for Holidays and Other Family Celebrations. Not just for December days, Ex-Etiquette also covers the milestones such as weddings, bar mitzvahs, and funerals.

Think about Next Year

Friends gathered around a tableWhen it's time to bundle up the lights and tuck away the reusable gift bags, resist the temptation to just throw everything in a big plastic tub to sort out later. Later will likely mean next year, and it's no fun to be picking apart tangles of tree lights with a sugared-up six-year-old at your feet only to discover that some elusive bulb is undermining half the string. Taking care when packing it up can make for a merrier morning next year.

Yet it can be very pleasant to discover some holiday extras in that big bin, particularly those we find on sale after the holidays. Cards, ornaments, gift wraps and fresh sets of lights can be great time and money savers.

With a little planning and perspective, the holidays needn't be the howlidays. Perhaps during those late December moments when the last of the clutter is tidied away, you'll be able to reflect cheerfully on that wonderful time of the year when things went crazy sometimes, yet you managed and somehow enjoyed it, rising above the tangles of ribbon, perfectly normal imperfections and perfectly wonderful joys of the holidays.