More Strung-Out Than The Lights On The Tree? You're Not Alone

More strung-out than the lights on the tree? You're not alone. Shopping. Wrapping. Waiting in line can stress-out any mom. But help is on the way! Stress-relief expert, author Susie Mantell, shares 20 Merry QuickTips -- simple, practical tips to stress less, and enjoy your holidays more!
Susie Mantell

Take some time for YOU
For many moms, this season tends to create over-the-top stress levels, and at the end of the day, most find, "attention to personal needs," somewhere at the bottom of their holiday to-do list. Balancing personal needs and professional responsibilities, while meeting family demands, challenges the physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of even the most self-aware among us, in even the most "functional" of families! (And at work? Well, there's Dave from accounting, under the mistletoe in Rudolph antlers. Winking?)

Creating joy is usually a matter of perspective. These are complex times. We can choose to make this holiday season about its many challenges and what's missing, but here are some tried-and-true, simple, practical holiday stress tips to help you enjoy healthier, happier holidays. I hope you'll find some winter warmth, helpful reminders and perhaps some new possibilities!

20 merry quick tips for happier holidays
December bustles with hunting expeditions, catalog-combing and web-surfing to find "just the right thing." Then, the delicious sigh of relief as the last ribbon is curled, and the joy of actually giving and receiving all those presents begins -- It's wonderful! But if this year finds you experiencing some winter doldrums, here are some tips to replenish a weary spirit.

1. List 3 things you would like, or would like to accomplish, in 2003. Then for each, write three steps that will bring your wish closer.

2. Thank six people every day. If you are stuck for recipients of your good manners, try the mailman, the produce guy. You know, crossing guards. . .

3. Let a driver make a turn while you wait. Then wave hello. (Come on. It takes less than a minute.)

4. Support a charity whose work you genuinely admire. The fastest way to get our minds off our own troubles or responsibilities is to ease someone else's load. Try it. OK. Try it again. (See?)

5. Let somebody else get on the escalator, off the elevator, through the grocery line, first. (I know, some of you are thinking, "I do that every day!" Well, judging from my own adventures-in-the-mall lately, it seems some people don't.)

6. It is never too early, nor too late, to teach a person to care enough to help another. Plus it's really fun! Let your kids see you doing these things. We learn even more about how to "be" from what our parents do, than what they say.

7. Still grumpy? Maybe you need a little present. It is not a bad thing to care for oneself. Create pleasure. (It's self-indulgence to excess, or utter disregard for others that's given a healthy degree of self-care a bad rap.) Massage? Manicure? Tennis or a movie?

8. Take a brisk walk; even better with a friend.

9. Eat healthily and slow down. Savor your food. Plan ahead for those favorite holiday treats, budget your week for them, and then. . . enjoy every bite!

10. Re-read The Velveteen Rabbit, The Giving Tree and the Runaway Bunny.

11. Missing someone? The degrees to which we love, laugh, connect, forgive (or don't!) impact stress levels, perspective, overall wellness and quality of life. Men and women who maintain close, positive relationships tend to enjoy more robust coping skills, enhanced health and self-esteem and less day-to-day stress.

During hectic weeks, e-mail and 'phone dates' can help you stay connected. If there are people you cannot be with over the holidays, schedule a phone date. Clear the calendar as if it were a live visit, and enjoy those few minutes re-connecting.

12. Connect with nature. Take a quiet winter woods hike, or a beach walk.

13. Give up one self-sabotaging habit for one week.

14. Not ENOUGH fun planned? Invite friends in. If you're not a cook, order-in but serve on holiday paper plates. Rent a movie, or play a board game! Have everybody bring a wrapped grab-bag gift under $10. (Even better: Gifts under $1 can be a hoot, and amazingly creative!)

15.Too MUCH planned? Block-off nap times on your calendar. Schedule a sitter and give yourself time to read, swim, browse a gallery.

16. Lots of plans BUT...not stuff you really enjoy? Make a date to meet a dear friend for a quick bite. It is amazing what a powerful stress-buster just spending a few minutes with someone you like can be!

17. Make one new friend this holiday season. (Idea: Maybe one without a child your kids' ages, to encourage you to keep growing in other areas too.)

18. Read something that touches you -- that makes you think, and learn, every single day. If you don't have time to begin a book right now, try greeting cards in the store, thumb through thought-for-the-day calendars.

19. Sing! Go caroling or find some carolers to listen to!

20. Close your eyes and imagine you are smiling. Just a little non-committal half-smile is fine. Now open your eyes, and stay that way all day, kind of half-smiling. That way we don't have to reach quite so far down to start one, if an opportunity to share a smile comes along!

Feeling a little Grinch-y?
As far back as I can remember, every December my grandfather would sit me down for a special talk. He would read to me, "The New York Times Neediest Cases," one story more touching than the next, and ask me to listen very carefully and then choose a story that especially spoke to me. That was all he ever wanted for Christmas. And we did it year-after-year-after-year.

Then my mom would help me to dictate, and as I got older, write my own letter to enclose with a small donation from my allowance to help the family I chose. My grandfather gave generously to us, but all he wanted in return was the knowledge that we understood how to share with others less fortunate, to enjoy and appreciate our own blessings, and what it is to give from the heart -- whether in word or deed, materially or financially, in our life's work or in the very nature of our relationships.

It was a good, good way to teach a child to care, and then to take action. A few weeks before the holidays each year, we would also select outgrown (or never-used!) clothes and toys in good condition and donate those to children who would not have fresh new clothes and shiny toys as we would. As adults, we made shopping trips for new toys and mittens and clothes to wrap and deliver as gifts for children we would never know, who would never directly thank us. It felt great. Now THOSE are wonderful holiday traditions, and I practice them still, joyfully. If this is not why we are here, then I cannot imagine what is.

If this year is different
Some Decembers are "different." There may be people missing from gatherings, or changing family structures. There may be illness or military deployments, unemployment or excessive workloads, or any number of reasons why the holidays will require some special effort to find, or to create for others, the true spirit of the season. Let friends know how they can help. People who care about you WANT to help and may not know how. Let this year be different if it needs to be, but "different" does not have to mean "miserable." Find pleasure in small moments.

This season, and in all seasons, Believe -- in whatever it is that is good and true. Believe in yourself and in humankind, in nature and beauty and music and laughter and hope! Whether or not you practice a particular religious faith, believe in honor and goodness, and the people you cherish, and in the values by which you wish to live. Believe in children, and a brighter tomorrow, and in possibilities beyond even your bravest dreams, and in this moment, right now. It really IS a gift. Wishing you a New Year filled with health, love, miracles, laughter and above all, peace.

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