HOLIDAYS CAN BE GREAT FUN. THEY CAN ALSO BE HELL. Expectations and obligations can turn what’s supposed to be a season of celebration into a nightmare. To help sustain you, here are some things I’ve learned the hard way. Apply as needed:
SET BOUNDARIES. Block off time during the day for yourself. No matter what’s on your schedule – cooking for a group of 30, finalizing the year-end recap or next year’s budget, wrangling a household of relatives with adorable but exhausting toddlers – find a few minutes for yourself: Turn off your phone while you take a bath. Sip a cup of tea – very slowly. Say “No” to the party you really don’t want to go to. Hide under the stairs and read a book. (Kidding. Sort of.) It’s crucial to replenish yourself, otherwise you’ll be miserable, overworked, underslept … and may end up so depleted you land in the hospital with pneumonia. Which would make nobody happy – except perhaps your nemesis, and that’s a holiday present you don’t want to give.
COMPRESS YOUR FACE. When I was a teenager I remember being told that adults don’t get pimples. As we all know: Hah! A zit will almost certainly manifest mid-forehead at the worst possible time. Don’t panic; it can be coaxed down. Alternate running a clean paper towel under hot (not scalding) water and holding it gently on the site of the pimple. Do this for about a minute: Water, face. Water, face. Water, face. You’ll feel the area you’re patting warm up and see it redden slightly. That’s blood rushing to the affected area, feeding it nutrients to help it heal. Gently pat your face dry with a clean towel. Apply a small dot of an acne treatment containing benzoyl peroxide (preferably one with bentonite clay, which will help further draw out toxins). Then apply a tiny bit of 1% Cortisone cream. Then another dot of acne treatment. Remember, you’re not making a hero sandwich. More is not more. You just want three super-thin layers. I learned this trick from a dermatologist, and it really does work wonders. You can also nourish your face with a thin layer of plain Greek yogurt as a mask. (I do this at night when I’m extra-stressed.) Leave it on for about 5 minutes. Wash off gently. Pat dry. Observe happier skin.
HAVE AN EXIT STRATEGY. It’s nearly inevitable that you’ll find yourself at a gathering with someone you cannot abide: a family member with abhorrent political leanings, the ex who broke your heart, the co-worker who tried to steal your ideas. Determine in advance a get-out-of-hell plan that will allow you to extricate yourself with grace. For example: You promised to help the host in the kitchen. There’s another party you’re expected at. Your childhood best friend is arriving at the airport and you have to pick him/her up. You get the idea.
RELATED: KNOW YOUR PEOPLE TRIGGERS. If Uncle Silas has a history of passing judgment on everything you say and do, or Cousin-in-law Mara insists on pressuring you to get married, have children, change careers (fill in the infuriating, inappropriate blank), be prepared to minimize your time with them. Know your limit and give yourself permission to adhere to it. Seasons Greetings don't have to be Seasons Grillings. ALSO: KNOW YOUR FOOD TRIGGERS. Salty, crunchy foods set up a craving – one that's even worse when sugar's involved. (Why do you think Doritos Crunch Mix is so damned addictive?) Your particular downfall might be brownies. Or stuffing. Or pecan pie. Which brings us to …
DON’T EAT EVERYTHING IN SIGHT. You are not an InSinkErator. You’re not required to chew up everything you’re presented with. Figure out what you really want to eat and savor those things, without guilt, in reasonable amounts. (Do make sure you’re including some healthy protein and vegetables.) HINT: Your taste buds start to become numb to the flavors of what you’re eating after about five bites; they need to be re-set. Make use of that knowledge: Incorporate foods with different flavor profiles on your plate and alternate between them. Again, savor what you’re eating. Try halving the size of your portions so you can enjoy several items without bogging yourself down. Your taste buds and digestive system will thank you.
IF YOU’RE DRINKING ALCOHOL: a) Don’t drive! If you can, plan with a group and have a Designated Driver (please remember to thank them accordingly). If necessary, split a cab/Uber/Lyft, though you won’t know if the driver’s been drinking – thus my preference for the Designated Driver option; b) Alternate your alcoholic drinks with water. It’s helpful to train yourself to do this as a matter of course, holidays or no. If you’re footing the drinks bill, you’ll put less burden on your wallet. More important, your liver, stomach and head will bless you for the hangovers you didn’t inflict on yourself. Added bonus: you’ll be far less likely to do something foolish while under the influence. (We’ve all been there.)
IF YOU WANT TO GIVE SOMEONE A GIFT AND ARE STUMPED what might make them happy, don’t be afraid to ask. Most of us have been taught we’re supposed to be mind-readers. Unless you’re River Tam, this is a skill you do not have. (Yes, a Firefly reference!) Almost everyone will respond well to a query along the lines of “I’d love to get you something you really want for the holidays. Would you tell me a few things you’ve been longing for, in a few different price ranges?” A true friend will appreciate your asking.
You also might consider making a donation in your friend’s name to a cause that’s important to them. (Donate in your own name as well, if you can.) A few possibilities:
THE SPLC, which fights against hatred and bigotry with litigation, education and advocacy — https://www.splcenter.org/
THE ACLU, which works in courts, legislatures and communities to defend the rights guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States — https://www.aclu.org/
RAICESTEXAS, which helps families separated at the Border and others seeking asylum in the United States — https://www.raicestexas.org/
THE CALIFORNIA COMMUNITY FOUNDATION’S WILDFIRE RELIEF FUND, which helps rebuild homes and provides financial assistance for fire victims who need medical and mental treatment — https://www.calfund.org/wildfire-relief-fund/
DIRECT RELIEF, which provides masks, medicine and other resources to healthcare agencies and first responders in wildfire-affected communities throughout California — https://www.directrelief.org/emergency/california-wildfires/
SLEEP! At the end of the night, put on your favorite pajamas. Moisturize your hands (and feet, if you’d like). Slip on a pair of clean socks, which keep your feet comfy and help you fall asleep faster. Curl up under the covers, turn on a white-noise machine or soft music to help you relax. Drift off and let your cells and your psyche rejuvenate. Sweet dreams and Happy Holidays!
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