Extreme Caroling

Exhaustion, anxiety and isolation are some of the emotions that come with holiday cheer. Here's how to cope with holiday stress.

By Gary Greenberg, Steven R. Pritzker, published on November 1, 1999 - last reviewed on December 16, 2005

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.

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!