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Reduce holiday stress one day at a time

A Google search on "reduce holiday stress" a few days ago yielded 14.1 million results. So if you're feeling pressed in holiday style, you've got plenty of company. Today the Christmas machine cranks up in earnest and stays in overdrive through New Year's weekend. Here's some help: a day-by-day calendar of ways to lower the pressure and the expectations, raise the joy quotient, and give body and spirit some peace on Earth.

Dec. 19

Partying tonight? Think before you drink. A tall vodka cranberry juice is 250 calories. A rum and cola is 240 calories. A beer is 150 calories, and a 5-ounce glass of wine is 100. For every cocktail, drink a glass of water — or two.

Dec. 20

Reconnect with the Ghost of Christmas Past: What made you crazy last year (the hand-rolled hors d'oeuvres)? What was the highlight (popcorn and a movie with the kids)? Dump the first and repeat the second.

Dec. 21

Flying? Visit for tips about parking and traffic. Leave way early, don't wrap the gifts, mind what's in your carry-on. (Visit for more tips.) Resist the lure of 730-calorie Cinnabons and pack your own snacks.


Blue Christmas isn't just an Elvis hit. Holiday depression is a reality for many who have lost a loved one or whose family members are distant or in harm's way. Acknowledge your feelings; talk to someone; accept that this Christmas may not be particularly merry and hope for better to come.

Dec. 23

Circling the buffet table, going back for seconds and standing in line at the bar don't count as exercise. Why waste your calories on food you can eat any time? Go for favorites that appear only at holiday time (use a dessert-sized plate to limit portions) and step away from the table.

Dec. 24

Honor your faith tradition. Light candles, take time for prayer. If the grandeur of a midnight service on Christmas Eve isn't your thing, consider a Christmas morning service, which may be quieter and more contemplative.

Dec. 25

The holidays give you a free pass to call an old friend and reconnect, mend a broken relationship, or say what's in your heart. Go pick up the phone, right now.

Dec. 26

Eating again? Maybe you're really thirsty, tired, stressed or bored. Be mindful of your triggers, and before you reach for that slice of peppermint meringue cake with chocolate buttercream (722 calories), ask yourself if it will give you what you're really looking for.

Dec. 27

Christmas cards don't have to arrive by Dec. 24; that's why we have the 12 Days of Christmas. Send yours after the holiday, when you have more time to write personal notes and can include photos of the kids, the pets and the tree.

Dec. 28

Week Two of winter vacation for the kids, who by now may be wildly overstimulated or bored. Try to enforce regular bedtimes and mealtimes, and get them out of the house. Think park, beach, Tampa Electric's manatee-viewing station at Apollo Beach (

Dec. 29

The nail salon is going to be jammed on Dec. 31. Book your mani-pedi a day or two ahead and avoid the crowds.

Dec. 30

A little self-care goes a long way in this week between the big days. Keep up your regular exercise. Listen to music. Take a nap. As columnist/cartoonist Ashleigh Brilliant puts it, "Sometimes the most urgent thing you can possibly do is take a complete rest."

Dec. 31

Can't stay up till midnight, or don't want to go out with all the revelers? Schedule a "Noon Year's Eve" get-together: Go out for a festive lunch with family or friends and do your celebrating in broad daylight.

Jan. 1

Charity soup kitchens are often overwhelmed with volunteers in December, but come January, help is in short supply. Resolve to volunteer your time this month or next.

Jan. 2

Time to think about dealing with those extra holiday pounds. Look for a special Personal Best issue in today's St. Petersburg Times for inspiring ways to make 2010 your healthiest year yet.

Jan. 3

Take some pre-emptive steps to avoid the post-holiday letdown. Plan an outing or lunch later this month with friends; get tickets now for a concert or show — something to look forward to when the hoopla is over.

Jan. 4

The first day back at work after the holidays can be a downer. Bring in a plant or flowers (not a poinsettia — you want a fresh, nonholiday look) and a 2010 calendar to start things off right.


• Is another big meal on the social schedule? Give your body a tradeoff. Eat lightly the day before and day after. It will be easier, after the holidays, to get back to normal eating if you haven't been in full-out feast mode for two weeks.

• Even loving families can drive each other crazy. Limit the time you spend with difficult or demanding relatives. Avoid replaying old arguments and painful family dynamics. Cut off the discussion, walk away, change the subject. Don't get sucked in.

• You can't be everywhere at once, and trying to hit three parties and a concert in one evening is crazy-making. Pick one activity and say a gracious no to the others.

• Assume that everything will take longer than you think, and plan your time accordingly. Prioritize the to-do list.

Sources:,,; Michelle May, M.D., author of "Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat" (Greenleaf Book Group Press)

Former Times Homes and Garden editor Judy Stark is a freelance writer in St. Petersburg.

Reduce holiday stress one day at a time 12/17/09 [Last modified: Thursday, December 17, 2009 11:18pm]
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