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By Charles Hopkins Published 04/7/2006 | Social Issues

How many times have you collapsed weakly on to the sofa at the mere thought of hosting a party simply because you cant take the party-planning stress? And how often have your fears been justified as you run around madly as the party looms nearer and nearer, trying to get all the dishes done at the last minute, despairing over where to set your costly table decorations, and squeezing out at least 15 minutes for yourself before the guests arrive so that you can at least get the flour out of your hair? 

Were sorry if we sound harsh, but part of the fault must lie with you for not planning in advance. Remember Bridget Jones and her blue soup? Well, if you plan to dazzle all and sundry with your culinary and decoration skills, you must just give yourself enough time. If youre throwing a party at short notice, the menu and decorations must be accordingly tailored to help you have everything ready ahead of the hour. Therefore, here are some tips to get rid of party-planning stress: 

Relax: As the host or hostess, you have to be in a frame of mind to enjoy the party rather than worry constantly about whether the steak is overdone, or the soufflé liable to cave in on itself. Your anxiety is sure to transmit to your guests, so the evening can turn into a nerve-wracking occasion. 

Plan ahead: Plan the party well in advance, so you know exactly what you want to do and when to do it. Planning ahead also leaves you with time to shop for essentials and plan your menu the way you want it. 

Know your limits: Sadly, that is easier said than done. You might fancy yourself as a great Crepe Suzette maker, but when the time comes, you may find your crepes just arent crisp enough and you have no plan B. So instead of laying yourself open to embarrassment, stick to objectives that you can realistically achieve, even if that includes heating a frozen dinner. That applies to decorations as well. Dont spend a packet on table and household decorations without having an idea of where to place them. 

Manage your time: Select items that can be made a day or two before the party, so that you dont spend most of the evening cooped up in the kitchen. This is one of the best ways to get rid of party-planning stress. Moreover, there are dishes that actually taste better the day after they are made, so be on the lookout for those.  

Ask for help: Theres no shame in asking a close friend or relative to lend a hand with the preparations, particularly if he or she has a reputation for hosting good parties. Not only will an extra pair of hands reduce your workload, your guide may come up with timesaving ideas that you never knew existed. If all else fails, consider a potluck dinner but only if your guests are close to you and wont mind being asked to chip in with specific items. 

Make a checklist: This is invaluable when you have a lot of things to do. Not only will help you remember things; it will also help you manage your time better. 

Practice moderation: Do not arrange for so much food that you have to eat leftovers for a week, but also make sure your guests dont go home on empty stomachs. You dont have to serve an eight-course meal every time, though. An average of two appetizers (both can be microwave-friendly), an entrée, a side dish and a salad is usually enough. If you dont feel up to baking, buy the bread and the dessert and you are all set for the evening. And if your guests are really informal, why not give them something as basic as a wholesome Bouillabaisse and homemade bread?