Countdown to the Holidays — Keeping Yourself Stress-Free!

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By Marlo Thomas

Anyone who knows me will tell you that, around this time of year, something magic happens to me. There’s an extra spring in my step. I laugh especially hard. And if you listen closely, sometimes you’ll hear me humming…Christmas carols!

I’ve always loved the holidays; it’s a passion that dates back to my childhood. The moment the calendar flipped to October 31, life got really fun. Trick-or-treating in our neighborhood — Beverly Hills — was always a blast, because the grown-ups who answered the door were people you saw on movie screens, like Robert Young and Bing Crosby. When November rolled around, our house began to sparkle — literally — and the way my mom set the Thanksgiving dinner table looked like something you’d see in Good Housekeeping. And Christmas? Wow. Dad decorated our lawn with the most beautiful Nativity scene in the neighborhood — with intricately hand-carved figurines, and “Silent Night” piped in softly in the background. People came from miles around to see that crèche, and that set the mood for the celebrations that would follow.

But that was then and this is now. The world moves a lot faster these days, especially during the holidays, when the non-stop activity can make your home feel more like Grand Central Station that the warm hearth of yesteryear. Chaos rules the day.

But there’s something you can do about it. After all, holiday stress is a lot like a seasonal cold: it’s inevitable that you’ll catch it, but there are steps you can take to get through the worst of it quickly and start breathing easy again. Here are five tips from Dr. Marlo:

Start your shopping early. (Like now!)
Ninety percent of holiday madness is due to our crammed schedules. By the time Thanksgiving approaches, most of us are overbooked, underprepared and running out of time. So don’t wait for the arrival of the Mall Santas to begin your Christmas shopping — start now! Keep a gift list next to your computer, and knock off one new present every day. (As we all know, there’s virtually nothing you can’t buy online!) Then save your weekends for a casual, no-stress trip to the mall, just to round out your list. For extra credit, keep a few rolls of holiday paper nearby and wrap the gifts as they arrive. On December 24th, you may be the only one in the house with your feet up, watching TV!

Create a festive environment.
The ancient Chinese weren’t messing around when they came up with feng shui — the philosophical practice of creating an environment that is in harmony with our inner selves. Some of my friends rib me that, during the holidays, my home can look like the set of a Christmas TV special — smartly decorated tree here, twinkly lights there, carols streaming through the sound system. But isn’t that better than walking into the kitchen in the morning to the same old sink-load of dirty dishes? That we get the other 11 months a year! So set up your tree a little earlier this season, hang some tinsel on your stairway banister, dust off that old John Denver Christmas record and turn up the volume. You’ll be surprised how easily the stress melts away.

Prioritize.
Now matter how hard we try — or what higher power we lobby — we will never get that 36-hour day most of us need to meet our obligations. And the holidays are the hardest time of all to untangle our knotty schedules, as deadlines and errands run smack into holiday parties and family gatherings. So we need to be selective. Could completing that big project at the office help sweeten your Christmas bonus? Then skip that cocktail party (where you won’t know anybody anyway) and burn the midnight oil at your desk. Will meeting your visiting college roommate for dinner renourish your soul better than cleaning out the garage (which can easily wait until tomorrow)? Then give yourself a treat and go have fun with your old pal. You’ll know you made the right decision when you feel your pulse drop and your spirits lift. Give it a try!

Watch what you eat!
It’s easy to lose grip on your healthy-eating habits once Christmas sweets start arriving in the mail (especially Aunt Harriet’s famous fruitcake) and the mid-day noshing begins. But that doesn’t mean you have to say goodbye to between-meals snacks — just pick the right ones. According to EverydayHealth, you can eat right and reduce stress with a diet that includes: healthy carbs (a small bowl of pasta, sweet potatoes, whole-grains), which include seratonins that boost your mood and reduce your stress; avocados, which teem with omega-3 fatty acids that calm anxiety; a handful of nuts (almonds, pistachios, walnuts), whose B vitamins take the edge off your tension; and my favorite one of all — a modest piece dark chocolate, which is rich in antioxidants and, of course, always a pleasure to eat.

Give back.
I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t remind you that the holidays are the perfect time to remember those who need our help. This year marks the 12th anniversary of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital’s Thanks and Giving program, an annual awareness and fundraising campaign that asks holiday shoppers across the country to give thanks for the healthy kids in your life, and to give to those who are not. As National Outreach Director for St. Jude — which my father, Danny Thomas, founded in 1962 — I can tell you firsthand the enormous impact your generosity has on these gravely ill children and their families — especially during the holidays. And there are so many ways you can participate in the program — by adding a donation to your store purchases (shop where you see our St. Jude logo — we have over 70 great partners!), by donating online, or by buying our special line of St. Jude holiday gifts at www.stjude.org.

And that support is invaluable. When my father first opened the doors to the hospital, he made a promise that no family would ever pay St. Jude for anything — not for treatment, or travel or housing or food — because we believe that all a family should worry about is helping their child live. I’m proud to say that, with your help, we continue to stand by that promise today.

On Monday, November 23, I will be appearing on AOL’s “Build” with Chairman and CEO, Tim Armstrong, and a St. Jude patient to talk all about the program, and I hope you’ll tune in. In the meantime, here’s to another joyous holiday season — without the stress!

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