Steps to post-holiday stress reduction


If you're a working mother, what you need right now is a vacation on a desert island, or at a luxury hotel that allows neither children nor spouses, or in a nice rest home where people don't speak to you -- they just serve you three square meals a day that you don't have to plan, organize, cook, serve or clean up after.

If these options aren't open to you, on the other hand, here are eight emergency post-Christmas-morning "destressing" steps you can take instead:

*Make a solemn vow to pamper yourself as you recover from the demands of this holiday season. Start by promising yourself at least two hours of time just for you in the coming week -- and every week for the next year.

*Think of at least three factors that contributed to your exhaustion and stress -- made you feel frazzled and exhausted -- during this holiday season, then think of at least three ways to avoid falling into the same traps next year. Be specific!

Write your ideas down and pack them away with the Thanksgiving Day china, or tape them to your 1991 calendar's December page so you'll be sure to see them next year -- before your stress level reaches 120 on a scale of 100.

*Now think of at least three recurring situations that keep your stress level high all year, and at least three realistic alternatives to how you've been handling them. How can you eliminate, delegate or simplify them, in other words?

*Take a mini-vacation in your head right now -- and at least once every day in the year to come. Spend at least 20 minutes each day behind a locked door with your eyes closed, traveling in your mind to a place (remembered or imagined) that's peaceful and beautiful.

*Establish a "worry time" each day, or week, to face your worries and problems, then don't stew and fret about them again for the rest of the day, or week. Writing about the stress in our lives helps clarify and put it into perspective, as well.

*Think of at least three chronic time-wasters in your life, then figure out how to eliminate, or at least reduce, the time they steal from you each week.

If you spend hours every week in lines, start shopping through catalogs more often, for example. If you're a slave to the telephone, buy an answering machine. If meetings steal too much of your time, start sending more memos, or assign a subordinate to sit in for you.

*Take inventory of the home responsibilities that are time-consuming, resentment-causing or stress-producing, as well -- the ones that keep you hassled and frazzled, or cause friction between you and your spouse or constantly nag at you because they're never quite finished.

Now pick at least three and eliminate them (who cares if the kitchen floor gets waxed?), pay someone else to do them (even those of us who can afford to hire household help, don't) or hand them over to other family members to do.

*Finally, decide right now that you'll say "no" more often and make promises more sparingly between now and next Christmas. You'll be in better practice for next year's holiday season, for one thing, and we working mothers simply must start taking better care of ourselves during this -- and every -- season.

Questions and comments for Niki Scott should be addressed Working Woman, Features Department, The Sun, Baltimore 21278.

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