Your Stress-Free Holiday Starts Here
SPECIAL OFFER: - Limited Time Only!
(The ad below will not display on your printed page)


Your Stress-Free Holiday Starts Here

The smartest advice we could rustle up so you can actually enjoy yourself.

Your Home

This month, 99 percent of women with a to-do list a mile long start panicking about how to get it all done. To help, we got the inside scoop from top-notch experts on how to banish holiday freak-outs. Give even one of these tips a try, and we guarantee you'll stress less -- and start having more fun.

Keep it simple outdoors... Put a wreath on your front door and a small potted evergreen (available from your local garden center) on either side of the doorway. Place a floodlight pointing upward behind each tree, and that's it -- your outdoor decorating is done, says Dan Ho, author of Rescue from Domestic Perfection and host of the Discovery Health Channel's Dan Ho Show, which debuts in January.

...then place a gorgeous tree inside. Haven't got hours to unpack and hang all of your ornaments? Try this quick trick from design expert Nate Berkus, author of Home Rules: Buy grosgrain or satin ribbon in ivory or chocolate brown ("Brown looks so crisp next to the green of the tree," explains Berkus) that's at least 2 inches wide, and wrap it loosely like a garland around your tree from top to bottom. With the remaining ribbon, tie bows to some of the branches. Add strands of little white lights, and you've got an easy, elegant focal point for your holiday celebration.

Think outside the box. There's no need to make an extra trip to the store to stock up on holiday wrapping paper. Instead, give your gifts a creative twist by using "brown craft paper tied with twine," suggests Berkus. "Simple is always best, and it allows the gift inside to shine." Other clever wrapping-paper substitutions: recycled holiday shopping bags stuffed with tissue -- even the newspaper.

Your Finances

Give your bank account a boost. Lack of money is the biggest holiday stressor for 61 percent of Americans, according to a poll by the American Psychological Association. The solution is simple: Leave the plastic at home and use only cash when you shop, says Lisa Kent, a Merrill Lynch wealth-management advisor who specializes in personal finances. "If you limit your spending to the amount of money in an envelope, you'll be more focused on everything that's going out," she explains. "With credit cards, you're not."

Avoid a money meltdown. Don't let one slip become an excuse for a wild spending spree. "If you go off track and shell out more than you planned to on one thing, like a gift for your husband, make up for it by spending less on something else, like decorations," says Tiffany Bass Bukow, founder of, a financial education Web site.

Your Family

Stop "relative" anxiety. Does just booking a plane ticket for your holiday visit with the family put your teeth on edge? The basic rule of dealing with relatives is to know that "you're not going to get everything resolved over the holidays, because there is too much going on," says Joy Browne, PhD, a nationally syndicated radio psychologist. So when Uncle Charlie picks a fight, "understand that the only behavior you can control is your own," explains Browne. Do your best to ignore it and be cheerful. You can choose not to swallow the bait.

Practice the perfect comeback. Five minutes into the festivities, your mother starts in on your clothes, your hair, your weight. To maintain your composure if a loved one really aggravates you, "be curious, not furious," Browne says. "Instead of responding with, 'I can't believe you said that,' say, 'I'm a little uncertain about your meaning. Can you give me some clarity?'" If they have to explain their insult, it takes all the explosiveness out of picking on you -- and it makes them look petty for criticizing you in the first place.

Have a healthy sense of humor. Browne remembers one family gathering at which her parents started bickering. "I said, 'You know what? It cost me $800 to come home, and I'm here for two days, which means it's costing me $4.86 a minute, and I'm simply not willing to hear people bicker for $4.86 a minute.'" Everyone burst out laughing, and harmony was quickly restored.

Your Social Schedule

Entertain in simple style. Repeat after us: You don't have to go all out to have a good time. Pick up a tray of cookies and an assortment of cakes and pastries. Cut them into bite-size pieces and you've got an instant dessert buffet, suggests entertaining expert Wade Williams. For fun, buy an inexpensive game table from a discount store and challenge your friends to Ping-Pong or pool, says designer and entertaining expert Cynthia Rowley, coauthor of the Swell series of books. Bonus: You can use the table for games year-round. Playing counts as exercise!

Host an open house. If you can't limit your guest list to your BFF, host a casual, inexpensive open house instead of a formal gathering. Make some eggnog or punch, serve cheese and fruit, and invite people to drop by anytime between, say, 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. Ask everyone to bring a dish, and you'll be guaranteed to have plenty of food all party long -- with minimal work for you.

Plan ahead. When you're invited to someone else's party, RSVP as soon as the invitation arrives. "Procrastination only causes more stress," says Meryl Starr, author of The Personal Organizing Workbook. Then think about what you want to wear, and write it down on the invite. "This helps you avoid that scene where you're stressed and your husband's calling you downstairs and your shoes are all wrong," she says. If the party's at a place you've never been to, MapQuest the directions and attach them to the invitation now, rather than risk getting lost later.

Make a quick escape. If you must attend an event you're dreading, Starr says to drop by for 30 minutes or so. "Say hello to everyone and then explain that you have to go to another party," she says. "It doesn't matter how long you were there, just that you showed up."

Your Travel Itinerary

Book your flight for early on Christmas Day. "It's considerably less hectic than December 24," says Jen Catto, a senior editor at Travelocity.

Surf the Web for deals. Forgot to make a reservation? "The Internet is your best bet for last-minute offers," says James Sherman, CEO and founder of Sherman's Travel Web site and magazine. "Airlines generally release them on Mondays and Tuesdays for travel that weekend." You're more likely to find a good price if you're flexible with your airport choice, adds Jeff Varhol, general manager of, where you can book a flight three hours before departure. For instance, if you're trying to get to New York City, include the White Plains and Islip airports in your search.

Ship ahead. Consider sending gifts to your destination in advance. Checking your loads of stuff, particularly with the new carry-on restrictions, can result in longer waits, says Catto. And sadly, wrapped presents may have to be opened by airport security.

Buy a day pass for your airline's first-class and business lounge. "It'll cost about $50, but it's really worth the money if you've got a long wait or layover," says Sherman. "The seats are more comfortable, snacks and drinks are available, and there are TVs and sometimes showers." You'll likely need to purchase the pass ahead of time; check the airline's Web site.

Genius Gift Ideas

Shop smarter. This year, instead of spending hours and hours agonizing over the perfect present for every single person on your list, buy one clever, creative item in multiples that you can give to everyone from your niece to your colleague in the next cubicle, advise Joe Lupo and Jesse Garza, founders of Visual Therapy, a personal style and shopping service based in New York City. Stock up on a few extras in case you need a last-minute present for your child's babysitter or the neighbor down the street. These items also make great hostess gifts.

Stumped about what to get -- and don't want to resort to a bottle of wine or a candle yet again? Here's Lupo and Garza's holiday gift-buying cheat sheet.

  • iTunes gift cards
  • Movie passes
  • Starbucks cards
  • Fine olive oils: Says Lupo, "They're the new fruit preserve."
  • Anthousa Home Ambiance Perfume: "For the holidays, there's an Edelweiss Red Holly perfume that's perfect," says Lupo. Prices start at $36;
  • Gift bags from NYCSnax: Features unique and authentic snacks and treats from classic New York City neighborhoods like Chinatown, Little Italy, and Little India. "An alternative to the more traditional barrel of popcorn," says Lupo. $39.99;

Get loads more gift ideas from


Tip: 33 percent of Americans wait until December 23 or later to wrap their holiday gifts. To keep your last-minute stress levels from soaring, start a week earlier this year.

Originally published in FITNESS magazine, December 2006.