When Alcohol Fails, Here's the Other Trick to Coping with Holiday Stress

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Of course I knew it was coming soon. The Hershey's Kisses have been doing their merry jig for weeks. Pine needles have become part of my dog's regular diet. But still, that there's just five days left to buy presents, make plans for New Year's, choose outfits for holiday parties, and decide what food/drink/gift to bring to said fetes is, well, shocking. Soon, sure. But this soon? Yikes.

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Have I been in denial? Perhaps. Or maybe I've been suffering from decision-making paralysis.

Researchers like Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice, have found that when people are faced with too many choices, they become overwhelmed and make no decision at all. If you find yourself freezing up over the holidays (and not just because baby, it's cold outside) here's a little tool that might help: the three-by-three rule.

Often used by brokers to present choices to clients, this rule frames decision making as a matrix of three categories, each with three options. For example, if you're going to a party and are not sure what to bring, first decide 1) food, 2) drink, or 3) object. If your choice is food, then decide 1) ready store-bought, 2) ready homemade, or 3) prepare there. Say you picked store-bought, now consider 1) savory, 2) sweet, or 3) the perfect combination of both? The perfect combination of both (natch) and voila! You have your answer: chocolate-covered caramels with sea salt.

Here's another example: If you're a hard-core procrastinator and still need to buy a Christmas tree, first decide Douglas Fir, Balsam Fir, or Norway Spruce. Then choose tall, medium, or short, and finally skinny, round, or something in between. By the end, you'll have a more manageable number to choose from, and the holidays will start to feel as they should: happy.

What are your tricks for managing stress around the holidays? Sound off in the comments below!

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