Tips for Managing Holiday Stress

Buying a Christmas tree seems to signal the start of holiday stress for me. We have gone to the boosters lot for the past 12 years, they have great trees, and as a family we all seem to agree on the type of tree we like. The stress starts right after we make our choice, and I have to write the check. Then comes the ordeal of watching my husband (he is left handed) try to get it in the stand. This is followed immediately by my vision of how the house should look; lights inside and out, the smell of baked goodies wafting in from the kitchen, nicely dressed children sitting on the sofa, their hands neatly folded over their straight A report cards and holiday music sweetly seeping from the stereo, compared to the reality of my messy, rap music infested, dark home with a naked tree now leaning against the far wall.

According to Mark Gorkin, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, I am falling prey to “The Four ‘F’s of Holiday Friction: Fantasies, Family, Food and Finances.

1. Fantasies. My idea of the perfectly decorated holiday home in part comes from displays I see in stores, scenes I see in movies, and homes I visit where the women are obviously much more organized and creative than I am. The key to managing this friction is to give myself a break. Obviously I will be happier if I set more realistic goals for myself around decorating. Maybe this year I can find time to put lights on the tree before it dies, and come to think of it, my son actually put some lights outside on the roof with duct tape. They look great. This is no award-winning scene, but if I allow it to be good enough, I can surely reduce my holiday stress.

2. Family. Actually, in my case my family gets along fairly well. I have two brothers and a sister, and by the time we gather all the spouses and kids there are enough people I really like, so that I can avoid the people who drive me nuts. With the current structure of families, it is often hard to negotiate holiday time. My suggestion for managing this friction is to first decide what will be best for you and your family, then using good communication skills to relay this message to the other family members. It is okay to start new traditions and just because the siblings have always gathered at the home of the matriarch for a two-day celebration, doesn’t mean you need to pull your children away from their new toys and drive for three hours to visit.

3. Food. The holidays turn most of us into bingeaholics, and I am certainly no exception. I find myself running helter skelter, not stopping for lunch and overdosing on the cookies and chocolate that a colleague has brought to work. And discipline at a party is a contradiction in terms. This caloric chaos is not surprising, considering the biggest role model of the holiday’s looks like he hasn’t met a single gram of fat in two hundred years that he doesn’t love. Some tips for managing this friction; don’t chat hovering around the buffet table, take reasonable portions and move away. And face it, no matter what you do, or don’t do, you are likely to add some pounds during the holidays, so go to the malls and walk briskly for thirty minutes before you start shopping. You’ll spend less and, probably, will eat less as well.

4. Finances. The holidays seem to heighten our monetary consciousness — from the end of the year financial accounting, to the never-ending list of holiday gifts. For the first issue, seek a budget counselor or a CPA. For the last, “just say no” to your child’s “toy lust.” I think it’s a great idea to give your child choices and explain why there are limits. Try this holiday mantra: “Presence precedes presents.” This season, invest time, not just money. For big families, be creative. Divide up the gift list with other relatives; you shouldn’t have to buy something for everyone. Making a gift definitely adds a personal touch, so if you are more clever than I, and have the time, I think this is the greatest kind of gift to give.

The holidays can be stressful, and I think this quote by Terence sums up the antidote nicely

“Moderation in all things.”

May your celebrations be filled with love.