Stressed? Nip it!

The following ran in abbreviated form in the Tuesday, Dec. 21, issues of The News & Observer and Charlotte Observer. It appears today and tomorrow with additional information, two additional tips and an exclusive holiday survival scenario by Countess LuAnn de Lesseps of Bravo TV’s “The Real Housewives of New York City” (and author of “Class with the Countess”).

You’re nearing the end of the holiday sprint — hold on! You can make it! Here are six tips on how to survive some classic causes of last-minute holiday stress — and two reasons why it’ll behoove you to do so.

1. Should I break down and buy gifts? You’ve waited this long to buy gifts because, frankly, you’re among the nearly 10 percent of Americans on unemployment and you can’t afford them. Still, the urge to break the Visa out of the freezer is strong. Keep the card on ice, advise those responsible for both our mental and financial well-being. (If you tuned in yesterday, you may recall that according to a survey by Liberty Mutual, 35 percent of us say we will spend beyond our financial means this holiday season.) First, the mental argument for cutting back …

“If one has been unemployed … those close to them would know this, and unless they are completely cold and uncaring, they should not expect anything,” councils Lou Manza, professor of psychology at Lebanon Valley College in Pennsylvania.

Besides, Manza notes, with apologies to the three wise men, gift-giving isn’t at the root of the Christmas. “In addition, this season, ideally, is meant to be a time for family to get together — so just be with family members, help out/participate in holiday activities, and enjoy the company of loved ones.”

And, as Randy Bachman and others have noted, sometimes you simply have to look out for numero uno.  “Sometimes people need to look out for themselves,” says Manza, and if that means not buying gifts, don’t buy them.”

And the financial …

“There’s no shame in readjusting the scope of your gifts in order to avoid a sackful of debt,” adds David Reiser, a senior vice president of wealth management with MorganStanley SmithBarney. Besides, he adds, you’re likely spending more than you may think anyway.

“Whether you’re feeding your family, bringing a dish to the office potluck, or hosting an event, grocery bills can add up at an alarming rate this time of year. Don’t forget about the little ‘extras’ like the holiday tip for your hair stylist and mail carrier, or the gifts for the kids’ soccer coach or piano teacher. And those twinkling Christmas lights give your power bill a boost … .”

Instead of giving something you don’t have (money), advises Gail Madison, director of The Madison School of Etiquette and Protocol, give them something you do have in abundance: your time. “Babysitting, cooking a dinner, cleaning, yard work? The possibilities are endless.”

You could even make someone a hat! This gal I know made two alone last night — while watching “The Rockford Files.” Here’s her secret.

2. “So … .” Family gatherings are fraught with conversation minefieds, topics guaranteed to make Congressional bickering seem civil by comparison. Rather than open your mouth when the topic turns testy, open your ears, advises Dr. Paul Brinich, an adjunct clinical professor in UNC’s Department of Psychology with a private practice in Chapel Hill. “You don’t have to agree with someone to see that they may have good reasons. Be respectful of that. Hey,” he adds, citing the recent tax cut compromise in Washington, “if Obama and Mitch McConnell can get through a meeting, then maybe there’s hope for me and my mother-in-law to get along.”

Speaking of bickering couples, that raises perhaps the most volatile topic that may arise over the holidays: politics. Linda K. George, a professor of sociology, psychology and psychiatry at Duke, suggests a Barney Fife “nip-it!-nip-it-in-the-bud” approach.

“If you believe that a heated or unpleasant political discussion is likely to arise at a holiday gathering, you should tell family and friends ahead of time that you want a moratorium on political discussions for the holidays.” Remind them of the “peace and good will to all” thing, she adds.

If you find yourself in a situation where no truce has been prearranged? “Simply walk away from it — to another room, if possible,” she suggests. “ … it won’t be long until others join you for more pleasant conversation.”

3. Your mother-in-law got a good deal on airfare so she’s staying two weeks instead of one. Your husband announces he’s going hunting for one of those weeks. And please tell me those aren’t bed bugs. Your life is straight out of Fox’s Sunday night lineup — and that’s OK, says Debbie Mandel. “See your life as a sitcom,” advises the author of “Addicted to Stress: A Woman’s 7 Step Program to Reclaim Joy and Spontaneity in Life.” If it helps, think of yourself as Marge Simpson, your youngest as Stewie, your teen stepdaughter as Roberta. And remember, “Cosby” was fiction.

Tomorrow: Five more tips, plus advice from the Countess.

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