In a perfect world, the holiday season would sparkle with harmony and joy for all. However, in the real world, the holidays are the most stressful time of the year for just about everyone to some degree.

The American Psychological Association reports that stress is on the rise in our country with almost a quarter of the population experiencing an extreme level of stress in their personal or professional lives. Some of the contributing factors are finances, unemployment, job security, juggling work and family, and so much more.

With the advent of the holidays upon us, there comes a certain amount of expectations in the form of gifts, family, work, traveling, hosting, and striving for perfection in general. Before reaching the meltdown point that could sabotage the holidays or affect your health, give yourself a reality check. Here is how the APA breaks it down (used with permission):

Take time for yourself — There may be pressure to be everything to everyone. Remember that you’re only one person and can only accomplish certain things. Sometimes self-care is the best thing you can do — others will benefit when you’re stress- free. Go for a long walk, get a massage or take time out to listen to your favorite music or read a new book. All of us need some time to recharge our batteries — by slowing down you will actually have more energy to accomplish your goals.

Volunteer — Many charitable organizations are also suffering due to the economic downturn. Find a local charity, such as a soup kitchen or a shelter where you and your family can volunteer. Also, participating in a giving tree or an adopt-a-family program, and helping those who are living in true poverty may help you put your own economic struggles in perspective.

Have realistic expectations — No Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza or other holiday celebration is perfect. View inevitable missteps as opportunities to demonstrate flexibility and resilience. A lopsided tree or a burned brisket won’t ruin your holiday; rather, it will create a family memory. If your children’s wish list is outside your budget, talk to them about the family’s finances this year and remind them that the holidays aren’t about expensive gifts.

Remember what’s important — The barrage of holiday advertising can make you forget what the holiday season is really about. When your holiday expense list is running longer than your monthly budget, scale back and remind yourself that what makes a great celebration is loved ones, not store-bought presents, elaborate decorations or gourmet food.

Seek support — Talk about your anxiety with your friends and family. Getting things out in the open can help you navigate your feelings and work toward a solution for your stress. If you continue to feel overwhelmed, consider seeing a professional such as a psychologist to help you manage your holiday stress.

In addition to the tips above provided by the APA on ways to handle holiday stress, here are some additional strategies on making this holiday season a little easier:

Anticipate obstacles – Remember that big blowout with Uncle Bernie last year? Yeah, that was fun. Or how about the time you overbooked yourself and had three holiday events to attend in one day? Or, maybe you didn’t have any holiday events planned, creating an overwhelming sense of loneliness. Whatever the factors were that caused you stress, remember them so you can plan in advance the best way to approach them this year.

Rethink sending holiday cards – Many people are skipping out on the tradition of sending out holiday cards because of the time involved, as well as the cost of purchasing the cards and mailing them. If this is a stress factor for you, consider sending out an electronic holiday card to the folks you have email addresses for. Personally call family members and friends you haven’t spoken to in a while and get caught up. At the very least, whittle down your holiday card list so that it feels more manageable.

Decorate a Little. Fixing up your living space (or even workspace) with little holiday touches can be very soothing. And, it can be done economically by purchasing items at your local thrift shop or networking through Freecycle ( Emphasis is placed on decorating a “little” or more simply. Remember that “less is more” and you want to avoid that cluttered feeling with too many decorations and doo-dads.

Maintain familiar routines. To keep stress at a minimum, it’s important for adults and kids to stick to their usual schedules as much as possible. Most people thrive on familiarity, becoming more anxious and prone to outbursts when things are unpredictable and chaotic. Although it is the holiday season, try not to have more than one event to attend per day to avoid overstimulation and have some downtime.

Relax, enjoy your time with family and friends, and have a happy holiday!


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