Let's face it: The holidays are stressful. Heck, as I'm sitting here writing this column, my brain is churning over 15 other absolutely essential tasks — how many batches of cookie dough are left to make, how many presents do I still have to collect, who RSVPed for dinner Saturday — and I can feel the anxiety creeping up as I realize how few days remain to get everything done. Will I make it in time?
Without wanting to turn the most wonderful time of the year into a military forced march, replete with set schedules of cooking, gift-giving and merry-making that sap the effervescence right out of the champagne bottle of life, I have committed to putting together a few suggestions for how to make it through this holiday season in one piece (and of one, sane mind).
1. Experiment, perfect and personalize. Nothing brings home holiday cheer like something bearing the word "homemade." Even for those people on your gift list who are near impossible to get anything for — too-cool-for-school teenagers, co-workers, men — would enjoy getting something that bears your personal stamp.
Now, that's not to say any old cut-and-bake cookies will do. If you're going to do the homemade thing, you have to do it right. That means finding or creating a recipe, craft or project that you do expertly or at least that you put a lot of thought into.
The year I made paper-mache boxes for the first time and gave them to everyone was a bit of a disaster. I had no mastery of the glue spread, my layout was sloppy and it never dawned on me that my recipients wouldn't want their own faces plastered all over wooden boxes. The following year, I practiced the technique and collected little paper keepsakes of our adventures together over the year in individual filing boxes. That way, I could create real mementos that were polished, personal and priceless, even though they only cost me about 10 bucks.
2. Only try one new thing per year. On one of "The Chew" shows this week, Michael Symon shared a holiday memory of the year his mother — who is an otherwise excellent cook — decided to introduce "Jell-O salad" to her family's Christmas supper. When her children asked about its inclusion, she replied: "It's tradition," to which her children legitimately questioned "Where?!" The fact of the matter is, people look forward to this time of year with such reverence for tradition and nostalgia for years gone by that even palatable changes are perceived as much more disruptive than usual.
Plus, if you try a whole bunch of new things and nothing turns out that great because you haven't had time to experiment, perfect and put your personal touch on things, you are left with very few options. Instead, try your hand at just one new thing and quit stressing that people will think it's same old, same old. Trust me, that's what they want!
3. Omega fats, B vitamins and oxygen are your friends. The stress hormones that signal for you to freak out when you realize you're running out of time and how much money you've already spent can be assuaged by changing your diet a bit. Feasting on foods that are rich in omega fats, particularly omega-3s (such as salmon, flax seeds and walnuts) are a great way to boost your body's natural production of "happy hormones" like serotonin.
These healthy fats are also instrumental to maintaining brain function and proper cell-to-cell communication, which may help prevent against everything from depression to memory loss. B vitamins, like those found in whole grains and legumes, give metabolism and energy a boost. They also help the body produce dopamine, a chemical in the brain that helps us experience pleasure. And taking just 10 minutes to breathe regular, deep breaths and flood your body with the natural rejuvenation oxygen provides goes a long way in settling the brain and readying you to take on the next challenge, be it a collapsed souffle or an uninvited conversation with an uninvited guest.
Daphne Oz is a co-host of ABC's "The Chew." To find out more about Daphne Oz and read features by other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.