Don’t Stress It


The parade is blaring on TV, conversations are growing to a dull roar, kids are running through the living room, and it seems everyone wants to be in the kitchen.

Martha Stewart makes it look so easy, but contrary to what those Type A television personalities would have you believe, getting through the holidays with less stress means setting more realistic expectations for the annual family get-together.

In other words: lighten up if you want to keep your cool when the holiday hubbub kicks in.

"Family or friends may squabble. Food may not turn out perfect. Understand that this is your real life, not a picture-book experience," says Dr. Tina B. Tessina, psychotherapist and author of "Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting about the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage," ($15, Adams Media). "Think of yourself as a holiday trouble-shooter rather than a designer of perfect scenarios. Find out what's really important to you, your guests and your family, and pare down your celebration to the important things."

"Don't make it your goal to make everyone happy. You can't," says Leslie Beth Wish, psychologist and social worker with the National Association of Social Workers in Washington, D.C. "People are in charge of their own good time."

Creating a holiday schedule is the first step to getting through Thanksgiving with your wits intact.

"Designate a time when guests should arrive, what food they should bring and what time the food will be served -- then stay on schedule. This way everyone will know what to expect," says Kathy Peterson, host of "The Balancing Act" on Lifetime Television.

And don't even think of doing everything yourself. Ask others to bring a covered dish and recruit family members for the cleanup crew.

"Don't expect to cook it all," Wish says. "Even if you don't like Aunt Sally's tuna noodle cheese casserole, but you know it is very important to her, ask her to include it. Be inclusive. There are no prizes for martyrs."

"Your family and friends will feel more a part of the celebration if they actually create part of it," Tessina says. "You'll find that a lot of camaraderie comes out of working together, and a lot of the holiday fun happens behind the scenes as you work with others to get ready."

Have family members over the day before to help decorate, set the table and tackle any last minute cleaning. Do as much as you can ahead of time.

"Cooking the day of Thanksgiving can be exhausting, so cook and prep foods ahead of time that can be refrigerated or frozen before the big day," Peterson says.

Once guests arrive, focus on the entertainment and keep things lighthearted to ensure a smooth-sailing celebration.

Choose one room for the kids to play. Stock the space with a television and the latest kid-friendly DVDs, age-appropriate board games, and arts and crafts projects to keep them busy.

Set out a few crossword puzzle books, the daily paper and a book of trivia to keep adults entertained while waiting for dinner — and plan a few fun guided activities.

"Add fun and silliness to your holidays," Wish says. "Some families decorate the table with fun plates, others hide some money under one place-setting, still others treat it as though it were a kid's birthday party with little favors for each person.

"One family I counseled had each family member bring his or her baby picture and place them on the mantle,” Wish continues. “Family members had to guess who was who."

"Do something unexpected with your guests," Peterson says. "Sing songs at dinner, play trivia games, ask each guest what they are thankful for."


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