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Issue Date: October 2005 Issue


Serenity Now!

Four strategies for taking personal time-outs during the holiday season.


Rebecca Turman

Ahh, the holidays, a season synony-mous with spreading cheer, spending time with your family and getting more stressed out than any other time of the year. When the lights go up and the crazed shoppers start pushing for your spot in the checkout line, you may feel as though your head will spin like Linda Blair’s in “The Exorcist.” “Holidays amplify everything — the good and the bad,” says clinical psychologist Dr. Robert Kaplan of Kaplan Counseling.

The keys to finding moments of Zen throughout the holidays are determining the source of your stress and making time for yourself, according to Dr. Joel R. Gecht, president and CEO of Behavior Management Associates. “A lot of people feel guilty about taking time for themselves during the holidays because they feel like they should be spending every waking moment with the family,” he says. “Instead of seeing it as something you have to explain, feel guilty about or justify, tell yourself it’s not being selfish. It’s recharging your batteries.” Here’s how to do it:

Schedule a personal vacation: Gecht and Kaplan agree the best way to make personal time is physically scheduling it on a calendar. Literally write “time for me” on the calendar, Gecht says. Spend the break relaxing on the couch, window-shopping, going to a museum or visiting a friend — anything you want. The most important thing is scheduling it. “Don’t say ‘If I have to change something, that’s what I’ll change,’ ” Gecht says. “Give it appropriate priority.”

Unplug for 15 minutes: If you’re too busy getting things in order for the holidays or taking care of the kids for an entire day off, just schedule periodic 15-minute breaks for a quick recharge. Ask your spouse or an older child to take over in your momentary absence. Take a walk, enjoy quiet time alone or nap. Just realize that if you take short breaks during the day, you’ll actually get more done because you’ll be less stressed out, Kaplan says.

Keep it simple: When it comes down to it, “many parents over-commit themselves to holiday traditions because they are trying to create an adventure for their children,” Gecht says. Instead of obsessing over family rituals, it’s better to set realistic goals and expectations. This way you can enjoy the holiday without worrying too much about making it perfect.

Take notes: So how do you carve out this extra time? Work smarter when it comes to taking care of your holiday obligations. If you’re hosting a holiday gathering, make a detailed checklist for what needs to be done and make it your lifeline, Kaplan says. Do the same with your gift list. Trying to keep track of all your responsibilities in your head will only stress you out and lead to poor time management. As Kaplan puts it, “If you want to multiply 528 and 392, it’s going to be a lot easier to solve the problem if you have it down on paper.”


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