“Christmas is in the air,” observes one of cartoonist Doug Savage’s Savage Chickens.

“It smells like cinnamon and panic,” the other hen replies.

Though it may seem a bit early for a holiday column, consider this one a prep for that wild and crazy month-or-so that’s been filling stores with gobble-gobbles and pumpkin spice since September. You can’t blame merchants, as about 75 per cent of their business happens this time of year. At least that statistic reigned pre-Covid.

At any rate, after a year of lockdown, hordes of folks are venturing… nay…racing back out into the world, trying desperately to return to some sort of “normal.” Does anyone at this point even remember what that once looked like?

What I know for sure is that with those approaching times of merrymaking come expectations of frivolity and mirth at holiday gatherings, gifts piled high beneath exquisitely-decorated trees, loving families gathered close around firesides; perpetual warm, fuzzy feelings from Thanksgiving’s final bowl game through New Year’s Day with crock pots brimming full of good-luck hoppin’ john; and groaning boards spread with fat turkeys, succulent shrimp (this is the Lowcountry), bountiful trimmings and magnificent desserts.

Did you know that “desserts” spelled backwards spells “stressed”? No coincidence, that. Having lived on the earth for many moons now, I know the observation is not just mine, that currently, people as a whole are busier than ever, filling their calendars to bursting, hopping on that hamster wheel and going, going, going, doing, doing, doing. You can identify them by the whites of their eyes, huge globes with spiral lines going round and round to define the tiniest of pupils. Like the emoji that expresses a deer in the headlights kind-of look. These wide-eyed adrenalin junkies are likely saying yes to whatever may come down the pike, perhaps for fear they’d missed it last year. So they just do it. I’m not sure that what Nike had in mind.

And of course, the holidays add their own sort of stress to the table. Poor Norman Rockwell has been taking it on the chin for years for creating paintings of happy families enjoying idyllic holidays, making those of us who don’t fit into those scenarios feel guilty or less-than-perfect.

Lest you think me akin to the Grinch, I’ll add that if your holidays are indeed Rockwell-esque, by all means revel in them. Cover your house and yard with twinkling lights that illuminate Santa on the roof. Hum carols in the shower and the grocery store. Travel over the river and through the woods to chop down, haul home and decorate your own tree. Indulge in roast beast, boiled custard and figgy pudding. Rock the season!

Should that not be the case, however, I’m here to offer a bit of wisdom – borrowed and learned from experience – that may help ease your winter stress. Let’s pack a parachute, so to speak, that will keep you emotionally afloat to enjoy your own sort of celebration. Whether your ho-ho-ho holiday attitude has been deep-sixed by media overkill, not-so-blissful childhood memories, addiction issues, loss of a loved one – or ones – during Covid, or any of a plethora of possible traumatic scenarios, be confident that you can morph your holidays into whatever shape appeals to you. Even if it means finding a way to ignore all those holly-jolly folks around you and creating a season that you’ll always remember for the peace it brought to your soul.

By far the most important present you can give yourself is to take the best care of you possible. However counter intuitive that may appear initially, given the celebrations that may surround you, once you begin following a lifestyle of self-care, you’ll start feeling physically better, and that will soon translate to emotional and mental wellbeing. And you’re allowed, of course, to thumb your nose at coworkers who arrive the morning after the office Christmas party hung over and wondering if anyone remembers whom they left with the night before. Sounds like fun, huh?

Here’s how. Although numerous activities can ramp up that serotonin and get those endorphins flowing, following is a list sure to create a way-more-peace-filled season.

Pound the pavement – Get outdoors and walk or run in nature. If a winter chill sets in, head to the gym and hit the exercise equipment. Rest assured that everyone working out beside you is deep into their own regimen and won’t notice your baggy sweats or holey sneakers.

Meditate while hanging out in line – At the grocery store, post office, or hardware store, chill on your six-foot-social distance spot and concentrate on your breath. Inhale to the count of seven, hold it for four, then exhale for eight. Repeat as many times as you must – counting silently, please – to drown out the complaining customer in front of you and the wailing child behind. With enough will power, you might just levitate on up to the front of the line.

Skip the party – How about embracing a choice other than “Oh, it’s Christmas and I really should go to every party I’m invited to.” If you’re a party lion or lioness, dress up in your sparklies and make an entrance. But if you’d rather have a root canal than socialize this time of year, just say no. Stay home in your flannel jammies with feet, pop some popcorn and snuggle with the cat on the couch while watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” for a cathartic cry… or maybe “Shag: the Movie” for some South Carolina coming-of-age action.

Ignore the dust bunnies – If your house isn’t squeaky clean… fugittaboutit. Make that one of your 2022 resolutions that you may or may not keep anyway. If company comes, dim the lights and entertain by candlelight.

Cut back on gift giving – The pressure to give, give, give can really spoil your winter days. If you want to remember someone with a little something, put on your Pillsbury apron and whip up some lovin’ from your oven. Everyone likes consumable goodies. Or consider giving a gift to a nonprofit in someone’s name as a holiday remembrance.

Keep up healthy habits – Get plenty of restful sleep, spend time with those you love and take time for yourself when you need it; embrace anti-stressors such as keeping a journal, practicing yoga or daily stretches; eat a well-balanced diet, i.e. don’t pig out on cheese logs; and avoid an excessive intake of alcohol, caffeine and sugar. Your body will thank you.

Take a relaxing “soakie” – Fill a tub with hot water, swirl in your favorite scent, light a few candles, tell Alexa to play “easy listening,” turn off the phone, and slide on into the bubbles. For as long as you like. I’m with poet, novelist and short story writer Sylvia Plath on this one. “There must be quite a few things that a hot bath won’t cure,” she once said, “but I don’t know many of them.”

And should the blues take up residence on your doorstep, seek help from a professional. They stay busy this time of year for good reason.