Bye-Bye Blues

Sending holiday stress packing

Triangle malls are filled with last-minute shoppers, including you; unwritten cards and unwrapped presents clutter the dining room table; and everyone from your boss to your aunt is descending on the house.

The holidays are fraught with extra worries about gifts, entertaining and making things perfect for the ones you love. For many women, it’s easy to fall behind schedule and feel overwhelmed.

Women are more susceptible to stress-related illnesses, such as depression and anxiety, according to studies. And, depression peaks during the holidays, afflicting more than 17 million people in this country.

Forty-four percent of American women report feeling sad at this time of year, compared with 34 percent of men.

Females are socialized to be caretakers, assuming seasonal responsibilities that men might not consider. As responsibilities mount, women who don’t establish boundaries have little alone time and little chance to decompress.

If the frenzied pace is making you panic, don’t keep plowing ahead with your chores.

Instead, step back from the chaos and give yourself a chance to form a strategy, says Julie Morgenstern, author of “Time Management From the Inside Out.”

“People get so caught up in trying to do everything that they don’t enjoy the holidays,” she says.

No matter what else you do, having a wonderful time should be a top priority.

To chase away anxiety, create a plan. If you haven’t already done so, Morgenstern advises, make a master list of everything you need and want to do.

The next step is to estimate how long each item on your list will take and decide when you will do it.

Add up the hours you’ll need and then try to whittle them down by looking for logical shortcuts. To aid prioritizing, think about what worked and what didn’t work last year.

Even as the days dwindle, planning is paramount.

“It’s a huge delusion that you can’t take time out to plan,” Morgenstern says.

Write down each job in your calendar just as you would an appointment, leaving a little extra time for each one in case something takes longer than you thought it would. Also, be careful not to schedule every minute.

Bear in mind that “life happens,” and recognize that unexpected problems may arise, Morgenstern notes.

Other tips:

• Look for hidden pockets of time. Instead of twiddling your thumbs on the Triangle Transit bus, update your to-do list.

• Limit shopping to a few retailers. For instance, pick one bookstore, one department store and one toy store.

• Use overnight services to get presents out quickly. Sure, it’s nice to knock on someone’s door and deliver a gift in person. But it may not fit in your plan.

• Avoid overextending yourself. Know ahead of time when you will likely be asked to commit to something, plan a response in advance and give yourself permission to say “no.”

• Don’t sweat the small stuff. Let go of the details that don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. No one will care if your kitchen floor isn’t spotless. In the odd case that someone in your household does care, then let him be responsible for sweeping and mopping.

• Send New Year’s greetings. Not only are they more memorable, but they extend your deadline.

• Consider making a donation in someone’s name rather than buying a gift. With most charities, this can even be accomplished on-line.

• Hire someone to help out or delegate jobs to a spouse, partner or children. Think about how great it will feel to cross things off your list when you hand them over.

• Share tasks with a neighbor. If people love your desserts, offer to bake in exchange for having your presents wrapped.

• Make a date with a friend that also involves something on your to-do list. As an example, go shopping or cook together.

• Take care of yourself. If you exercise, eat healthy meals and get a good night’s sleep, you’ll accomplish more with less stress.