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Tips to avoid holiday shopping stress

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That cheerful woman chatting with you in the long line at the store register? It could very well be Lisa Macchi.

The North Reading resident has perhaps complimented the color of the scarf you’ve picked out for your sister. Or she has inquired about ways to best cook the chestnuts you’re buying. Certainly, Macchi has wished you — and the cashier — “Season’s greetings.”

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“I’m very talkative,” she said. “Part of the holidays is going out in the crowds, standing in lines for a few minutes and having a positive mindset. It is going to take longer than you think it’s going to, but it makes the shopping more enjoyable because you’re connecting.”

Macchi, who will purchase about 50 gifts for loved ones in the next three weeks, said surviving the shopping season stress-free is all about the proper attitude (along with daily meditations from Oprah and Deepak Chopra, she says). She chooses friendliness over irritability even if someone steals her parking spot, which, by the way, already happened last week at the Woburn Mall.

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“I do have my Grinch-y moments,” said Macchi, who does training for a nonprofit health organization. “You do get tired, but you have to put it in perspective.”

Charles Inniss, wellness coach at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, said mindfulness is one of the keys to enduring the less-than-lovely moments that inevitably creep into holiday shopping.

“Stress is really manufactured in our minds,” said Inniss. “Sometimes we prime ourselves with that negative response. If we go in thinking it will be crazy, we’ll find a way to experience it crazy.”

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But even those with the best intentions can have a hard time staying in the Zen zone. April Tripp, who likens holiday shopping to an outdoor workout, tries to prepare physically and mentally. Though she dresses in layers, and replaces her parka with a vest, she still finds herself in situations that result in “sweat running down my neck.”

“I’m a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants shopping girl,” said the Scituate mother of three. “A couple days before Christmas and I’m still out there getting the finishing touches.”

Tripp, who works part-time jobs as a preschool teacher and a dog walker, has the flexibility in her schedule to avoid the one of the most nightmarish scenarios: a Saturday at the mall in December. She has also replaced store-bought gifts with homemade granola for her kids’ teachers, bus driver, and coaches.

“We all put extra stress on ourselves to try and be superhuman. Who am I trying to impress?” Tripp said. “No one else cares.”

She learned that lesson 18 years ago in dramatic fashion. She was a new mom shopping for ornaments for a family Yankee Swap with her then-1-year-old Rachel at a little antiques shop.

“It was super crowded. All the trees were decorated with ornaments decorated by artists. Rachel’s in a backpack on my back so she wouldn’t touch anything. She went to grab an ornament off the tree and knocked the whole tree down,” Tripp recalled.

The saleswoman responded nastily, and Tripp started sobbing. “Then she gave me a hug,” she said. “I bought five ornaments.”

People have to remember to go easy on themselves.

“As much as the season is about peace and love, the most important person to direct that to is your own self,” said Dr. Darshan Mehta, medical director of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. “We’re almost always our own worst critics and worst enemies.”

Leslie Salmon Jones said shoppers can alleviate stress by making targeted purchases.

“Go out with a purpose and have something in mind,” Salmon Jones suggested. “Don’t be just looking.”

The owner of Afro Flow Yoga, who offered tips for stress-free shopping as keynote speaker Monday at a holiday-theme networking event called Get Konnected, said avoiding mall junk food and finding time to exercise (even shortened workouts) can contribute to a healthier shopping experience.

“Be strategic,” Salmon Jones advised. “Go during the times it’s not crazy, the early morning or late at night. If you know you’re going to be out, bring small snacks likes nuts and fruits and water.”

Nicky Franchi has the perfect solution to avoiding holiday shopping stress. The Waltham mom finished her shopping weeks ago (and, yes, her tree is already decorated and the house lights are up ).

“That’s how much I love Christmas,” said Franchi, 37, a special education teacher who starts making purchases in August and finishes before Thanksgiving. “I can’t be around the madness and chaos of the stores.”

Franchi said the season brings enough unpredictability (think head colds and last-minute visitors) that she doesn’t want to waste precious holiday time getting elbowed by irritable mall-goers. She also doesn’t want her three daughters to think the holidays are all about consumerism.

“If it’s just about shopping, that’s what they’re going to think it’s about,” she said. “They don’t hear me saying, ‘Oh, I have to get this.’ ’’

Franchi said she shops for groceries at 7 a.m., and makes only one trip to the mall so her girls can take photographs with Santa Claus.

“The kids take the pictures and I feel so good that everything is done,” she said. “Christmas is not out there. For me, it’s all here with family.”

Related coverage:

- Keep gentle mind-body focus on your holiday lists

Jill Radsken can be reached at jill.radsken@gmail.com.
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