Easy Ways to Reduce Holiday Stress

 Dana Gallagher Dana GallagherMake it through the holidays without combusting with this handbook of tips.

By Kristin Appenbrink, Lori Bergamotto, Elizabeth Jenkins, Maya Kukes, and Elizabeth Schatz Passarella

Let Go of Holiday Stress
Do you love the holidays? Yes, probably. Do you suffer through the stress that likely goes with them? Errrr... There is a better way. Just take a deep breath, and follow the easy tips in this guide.

Skip Traditional Gifts in Favor of Money-Saving Alternatives
Give to the group.
"A Blu-ray player or an ice cream maker is a gift that everyone can enjoy together," says New York City event planner David Tutera. Or surprise the gang with individually wrapped tickets to a shared activity.

Think small. Several creative stocking stuffers in lieu of one big (costly) gift affords you more of a chance to speak to the personality of the recipient while also stretching out the gift-opening process. A couple of ideas: chocolate-covered Cheerios ($5 for four ounces, mrchocolate.com) or stitchable stationery ($15, chroniclebooks.com). Take the stress out of Christmas shopping with a shopping plan.

See More: 7 Money-Saving, Stress-Less Holiday Shopping Tips

Swap IOUs, but make them special. One Christmas, Randy Mast of Anchorage, Kentucky, gave Julia, his wife of 36 years, a handwritten letter thanking her for all the dishes she had washed during their marriage and promised to do them himself for a year. That vow included loading and unloading the dishwasher and, yes, washing by hand as necessary. Mast stuck to his word―even in the face of stuck-on food.

See suggestions for holiday tips: Holiday Tip Guide

Take No-Sweat Holiday Photos
With a lit tree in the background:
Disable your on-camera flash, says New York City photographer David Abbott Land. Newer cameras have a higher sensitivity to light (or an extended ISO range), so you'll get natural glow (during daylight hours) by simply using the ambient light from the tree's bulbs.

In freshly fallen snow: New York City photographer Ronnie Andren recommends turning your automatic dial to its sports exposure. "It shoots in a faster mode, reducing the glare you might get in the lens," he says. It also helps to zoom in on your subjects.

On Christmas morning, when you have on no makeup (and got no sleep): "It's all about the eyes," says Andren. "Throw on a few dabs of concealer and take your position where the light streams in your direction but isn't directly over your head. The person taking the picture should have his or her back to the light."

With Santa: Show your child a (happy) picture of yourself when you posed with the bearded fella, then do a drive-by of the line a few times to show your child how other kids are doing it. Still, says Land, "some of the best shots are the ones of kids crying or eyeing Santa suspiciously." How suspiciously? See Crying With Santa.

See More: Organizing Your Digital Photos

Regift Cautiously
You can regift something only if it meets the following criteria, says Jodi R.R. Smith, author of From Clueless to Class Act: Manners for the Modern Woman ($10, amazon.com).

* It is new and has never been opened.
* It's something you would have bought for the person anyway.
* The original giver and the new recipient don't know each other at all.
* You've completely rewrapped it.

The only exception to the above? "If you're giving an heirloom that you know the recipient will love," says Smith.

See More: Creative Gift Wrapping Ideas

Use These Helpful Phrases If Your Flight Gets Canceled
"Operator, please connect me to customer service." "The first thing you should do is call the airline, even while you're waiting in line to be rerouted," says Brett Snyder of Cranky Concierge, an air-traveler assistance firm. "This way, you're essentially cutting the line in front of you." To expedite the rebooking process at the major airlines, keep these numbers in your wallet:
American Airlines: 800-433-7300
Continental Airlines: 800-525-0280
Delta: 800-221-1212
JetBlue Airways: 800-538-2583
United Airlines: 800-241-6522
US Airways: 800-428-4322

"Can I get you a sandwich?" If the phone lines are jammed and you do have to speak to someone in person, "don't forget that ticket agents have been doing this all day, and many haven't had a break," says Snyder, who says that offering a sandwich or coffee can help differentiate you from other demanding customers.

"What about Rule 240?" No longer an actual rule, this term refers to the airlines' "contract of carriage." Terms vary among airlines, but "most major airlines have to take your ticket and endorse it toward the next available flight, even if it's a competitor's," says Peter Greenberg, author of Tough Times, Great Travel ($10, amazon.com). One caveat: You can't take advantage of this if you checked bags.

See More: Easy Ways to Reduce Holiday Stress

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