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    Beating Holiday Stress

    It is possible to survive the holiday frenzy without feeling frantic -- if you know how. Here are top tips from some of the nation's leading stress experts.

    WebMD Feature

    The holidays really are the best of times and the worst of times. Our tidings of comfort and joy can so easily be devoured by the insatiable stress to do it all, be it all, and buy it all.

    And that stress is nothing to ho, ho, ho about, either. It increases your risk of illness and even death. One study, published in the Oct. 12, 1999, issue of the journal Circulation, suggested holiday stress and overindulgence help explain the soaring rate of fatal heart attacks in December and January.

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    Yet it is possible to survive the holiday frenzy without feeling frantic -- if you know how. Here are top tips from some of the nation's leading stress experts:

    Stress Master: Psychologist Alice Domar, director of the Mind/Body Center for Women's Health at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, and author of the book Self-Nurture.

    Strategy:Cut yourself some slack!

    • Tip 1. Shop so you don't drop. Domar's ritual is to take a personal day off work in the middle of the first week of December. "I hit the mall as soon as the doors open, carrying nothing but an empty backpack and my credit cards,'' she says. "The crowds haven't yet descended, the salespeople are still helpful, and there's plenty of stuff on the shelves. When I've bought too much to carry, I go back to the car, drop it off, and go back in again. It's amazing how much I can accomplish.'' If she finds something she really likes -- say a hurricane lamp at Crate and Barrel -- she'll buy an assortment in different colors and give one to each of several people on her list. "My sister-in-law, my friend, and my co-worker never talk to each other,'' she says. "They'll never know.'' And of course, catalogs and Internet retailers make it possible to shop without leaving the comforts of home.
    • Tip 2. Treat yourself. All that hustling and bustling can drain you. Domar suggests that for every 10 presents you buy for others, you select a little indulgence for yourself. "I might go with a little Godiva truffle or a Dave Barry calendar -- nothing expensive, just a little pick-me-up.'' She also recommends regular exercise and making time for a movie date with your partner, a soak in a hot tub, or a solitary evening of soothing music.
    • Tip 3. Skip the Nutcracker. Or if that is simply too much heresy, go ahead and take in the ballet but forgo the big menorah lighting, or the Santa parade, or the holiday ice show. The point is, don't drag yourself or your family from event to event. Think quality, not quantity. Domar recommends allowing each child to pick two events as must-dos. "The Nutcracker will be around next year, I promise,'' she says.
    • Tip 4. Stretch the season. If December is a hotbed of socializing, the weeks that follow tend to be a wasteland. That's why Domar proposes people schedule their holiday bashes for mid-January (her own office party is set for Jan. 14.) By then, guests actually welcome the idea of a party, and you'll have the luxury of time to put it together. And just because the last Scotch pine needle has been vacuumed out of the carpet doesn't mean you can't incorporate a holiday theme. Domar suggests asking guests to bring a fruitcake and wear the tackiest present they received.

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