Extreme Caroling

Many of us view the winter holidays with much the same enthusiasm as a sentenced pirate approaching the end of a gangplank: We feel dread, exhaustion, anxiety and isolation. We're victims of the Christmas blahs, the Hanukkah malaise, the Kwanzaa ennui, and, for the pagans among us, the Solstice slump.

But you shouldn't spend the entire season sequestered in your neighbor's bunker sipping eggnog from a canteen. While science has not yet found a cure for the holiday blues, there are definitive coping strategies:

Don't watch It's a Wonderful Life. Yes, it's a tearjerker and it's got a beautiful message, but enough is enough. The movie forces you to compare your own life to George Bailey's. You start to think: "If I were broke, would my friends show up with the cash to save my business?" In most cases, you could only scrape up enough for a bankruptcy lawyer.

Shop for the most important people first. We always want to get our loved ones something unique and special, so there we are at the quickie mart at 3 A.M. on Christmas Eve, trying to put together a "gift basket" of Twinkles, Crazy Glue and car air fresheners.

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Don't load up on fats and sweets. There's nothing worse than being bloated and wired at the same time. If you eat sensibly, you'll be in a better frame of mind. But if you insist on overdoing it, get a pair of those pants with the elastic waistband -- at the very least, you'll avoid the mid-meal unbuttoning, which is always a humiliating experience.

Get up from the table and get some exercise. It is a proven stress reducer. Take a hike. Make a snowman. In Vermont, a popular yuletide sport is Extreme Caroling, in which people run from house to house and carol when they get there. (There's a lot of space between houses in Vermont.)

Before you start up a conversation, make a mental list of topics to avoid. If you're feeling at all blue, you'll probably want to rule out discussion on: your career, personal life, health, religion, politics; the past, the future and, most often, the present. Topics that are almost always safe: the weather, sports and gardening. And don't lie about your career. Mom knows you're not an astronaut.

Relax. Take a deep breath. Take time out to rejoice at the little things: The smell of bread baking, the sound of fire crackling, the sight of a little piece of broccoli wedged between your stuck-up cousin's teeth.

Don't make resolutions now. There's too much pressure this time of year. Wait until you're in a better frame of mind, like in February, which is the Chinese New Year. And if you happen to be Chinese, you should wait until the Jewish New Year, which is in September.

If all else fails, just stuff the Christmas goose with Prozac. Happy Holidays!

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