Around this time every year, it is traditional for columnists to tell their readers (or reader, as the case might be) the following: a) how to enjoy the holiday season b) how to buy gifts c) how to avoid other people enjoying the season and buying gifts d) how to find places on the map that do not celebrate the holiday season and are therefore ideal destinations for a getaway and e) how to disguise yourself so people do not notice that you are not celebrating anything.

This year, I shall ignore a to e and give you f: how to survive the holiday season. Here’s the annual advice column…

It is a comment on our times that we need advice from strangers on how to enjoy the holiday season; what is worse is we need advice on how to survive it. The reason, in one word, is ‘stress’.

Nothing causes as much stress as the season when you are expected to be jolly, forgive minor sins and be seen to be enjoying yourself. When the new year dawns, you can redeem yourself by deciding not to get stressed the following holiday season, but we are all adults here and know we kid ourselves.

There are two ways to survive the season: withdraw from everything or throw yourself into everything. Thus you can either refuse to buy gifts for anybody, send out cards, attend parties or visit a very old grandmother, or you can buy gifts for everyone including the guy from your office you met for the first time yesterday, party like there is no tomorrow and visit grandmothers old or otherwise.

If you choose the first option, the advantage is that you’ll be left alone next year. If the second, there is the possibility of boring everyone with your bragging stories and pictures later – and if all goes well you, too, will be left alone next year.

But what of the stress levels? The one who withdraws will get ulcers, lose hair and break out in hives worrying about friends, relatives and complete strangers having a good time. It is not enough, psychologists say, that you should be a party pooper, you want others to be poopers too. The party animal, on the other hand, will get ulcers, lose hair and break out in hives, worried that others are having a good time and he is missing out. Anxiety is the mother of stress.

The holiday season syndrome, to coin a phrase, is a psychological condition where you are damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. It is a gift we have given ourselves. A gift, that like measles or the flu, keeps on giving.