While the nation struggles to get back to normal after September 11, many Americans are still feeling jittery. For some, there's anxiety about traveling; others look cautiously for return addresses on their mail. Many are nervous about losing their jobs.

Holidays tend to be stressful

anyway--the social events and family gatherings, the annual hunt for the perfect gift or this year's must-have toy. Add food preparations, gift wrapping and sending, and trying to tie up loose ends at the office and you've got the perfect recipe for tension and troubled sleep.

So, in this stress-filled time, when we might be feeling a bit more frazzled and fragile than usual, here are some suggestions of what you might do enjoy the holidays--and keep them holy


Soak up the Beauty of the Season

Roy Woodruff, executive director of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, reminds us that the holidays bring beauty and light. He suggests that we take advantage of musical programs and prayer services to deepen our own sense of inner peace.

"Christmas is about birth and new life and being surprised by joy in the midst of anxiety and a lot of negative world events," he says. "God's grace comes no matter what's happening in the world." Help it along with concerts and carols

and displays of lights.

Along Park Avenue in New York, the elegant evergreen trees ablaze with white lights transform the boulevard into a magical place. And just outside of Washington, D.C., the Mormon Temple creates a truly breathtaking wonderland of lights. Find and enjoy what your area has to offer.

Be Generous With the Hugs

Among other things, September 11 instilled in us a new sense of gratitude

for friends and family. Let them know it. Be physically affectionate; don't be a scrooge with your supply of hugs.

Psychologist Henry Goetz says it's surprising how few people offer physical demonstrations of affection. They are very much appreciated, he says. Even as teenagers shriek, "Daaaaddd, knock it off," they press in a little closer.

Daily Dose of Inspiration

To keep a focus on the spiritual meaning of Christmas, take time every day to read a short religious passage. If you don't have a favorite book to draw from, use Beliefnet's Advent readings

, brief paragraphs by well-known authors who wrestle with the Incarnation and other seasonal mysteries, or try our menorah meditations


Reconnect With Friends and Family

Community is very important to one's sense of security and well-being. If you have a personal network of intimates, give thanks. If yours has, over the years, become a bit frayed, take the time to repair it.

Make calls, drop people a card, reconnect with those you care about. If you don't have a community, figure out how to create one. It could be a faith community, support groups like AA

or Parents Without Partners, or groups that organize themselves around activities like skiing, hiking, or bird-watching.

Take Time for Yourself

It's too easy to get overwhelmed by the mundane tasks that need to get done, by all the demands to send out the cards, wrap the presents, bake the cookies, decorate the tree, and show up cool as can be at all the open houses and holiday fetes. This year carve out time to soak in the bathtub, enjoy an afternoon of peace--no kids--to do whatever relaxes you, or trundle down to your massage therapist or chiropractor to work out the muscular kinks.

Seek Professional Help if You Need It

Much is written about feeling blue during this season

. Seasonal affective disorder has kicked in for some and holiday family gatherings can cause dormant emotional issues to rear their nasty heads.

The events of September 11 create a special vulnerability for some this year. Researchers and clinicians are warning that if you were experiencing psychological turmoil before 9/11, chances are you are more vulnerable to emotional distress now.

So if can't seem to shake off a sense of doom or depression or if you find yourself more anxious than usual, get a professional opinion from a social worker, psychologist, psychiatrist, or pastoral counselor.

Enjoy Holiday Goodies

Many of us associate the holidays with a particular food, drink, or meal. No need to deprive yourself of that glass of eggnog, slice of buche noel, or helping of fresh fig cake. Just make sure that you balance those latkes with salad and fruit.

Keep Active. Exercise.

One of the best stressbusters is exercise because it not only helps rid us of tension and anxiety but burns off the calories as well.

As you create your "to do" lists, make sure to add a yoga class

or an appointment with the treadmill. And take a walk around your neighborhood with the family looking at the lights and decorations.

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