How to trim your holiday stress

THE HOLIDAYS CAN COME WITH A LOT OF PRESSURE – relatives in your guest room for too long, kids overstimulated or bored, more shopping, cooking, mingling.

The most beautiful time of the year? Not quite, for some. The holidays can be overwhelming and anxiety-filled.

If you feel that way about the holidays, you can really enjoy them even if you don’t miss the family reunions with a trip overseas.

Consider these sources of holiday stress and how to manage them:
Unrealistic expectations
When you strive for everything to be perfect—the gifts, the food, who will attend—it’s easy to get your hopes up.

What you can do: Take a step back and consider what is most important to you during the holidays. If it’s quality time with family or friends, then if the meal doesn’t end up being as great as you’d hoped, or you’re disappointed with the gift you received – or didn’t receive – try to put it into perspective and instead enjoy the time you had they had to connect with others, talk, play board games, or go for a walk to see the holiday lights.

Financial stress
Between flights and gifts, restaurants and new winter tires, the holidays can be expensive. If you’re a couple and you don’t quite agree on how much is reasonable to spend, arguments can arise.

What you can do: Before you start shopping for the holidays, decide how much is reasonable to spend on holidays and gifts and how wide the range of gift-giving will be this year, keeping your budget in mind.

If you have a partner, try to agree on how much to spend so that no one is surprised when the credit card bills come. A much cheaper alternative can be, for example, used goods on the Facebook Marketplace. buy each gift new. Also think about being crafty. The gifts you make can cost much less than the best sales.

Relationship tension
The holidays can bring people together who don’t normally spend time together, and that can bring to the surface some burning issues in those relationships.

Before meetings even begin, it can be easy to anticipate friction, what someone might say, how you or they might react. Soon, before you even see each other, you’re ready for a crossfire. It can be stressful for couples to decide which family members to spend time with and how much time is reasonable.

What you can do: Think ahead about what you will do if the conversation turns to certain topics that have caused tension in the past. Are you going to leave? Are you going to subtly shift the conversation, or be blunt that you don’t want to discuss it? It’s possible that the subject you’re having doubts about—your credit card debt, your daughter’s boyfriend, your plans to move out of state—never comes up. The drama you expect may be much worse than what actually happens.

If you’re in a relationship, try to compromise on which family and friends you plan to visit, for how long, and whether you’ll stay at their home or hotel. You might get resistance. “How come you’re only staying here for two days?” “Why don’t you leave the kids with us for the rest of the week?”

Regardless, you’ll likely have a vacation that’s more based on what you and your family want.

Loneliness
If you don’t have friends or family members to spend the holidays with, the season can remind you of the relationships you don’t have. It can be easy to succumb to feeling sorry for yourself.

What you can do: Consider ways to connect with others. You don’t have to be alone. Options include volunteering at a food shelter or attending a church service. Being around people—even those who aren’t family or close friends—can help you get out of your head.

Losing a loved one
This may be your first holiday without a relative or friend who died in the past year. As you think about past vacations together, that void can be especially painful.

What you can do: Think of a way to honor your loved one who has died. You can share memories and photos about the person on your date, or you can choose something more private, like donating to a charity of their choice or going to a place they liked.

Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)
Whatever we’re doing, someone else is doing something exciting—or so it seems when we read their latest post from a white sandy beach in Hawaii or a Costa Rican rainforest. We can be especially prone to feeling like we’re missing something when we’re not enjoying where we are. Escaping the gathering by tuning in to our phone instead of the people around us can leave us feeling disappointed and ignored by those around us.

What you can do: When we focus so much on what we don’t like or what upsets us, we forget about all the things that are going well. Focus on the good. Try to think about what you can be grateful for. This won’t erase the difficulties, but it will help you keep them in perspective. So you didn’t get to go on an exotic trip on vacation, but you’re not sick or in debt, you have time off work and even free babysitting offers from relatives. Get into the habit of thinking about what you’re grateful for and keep that habit going, especially during the cold and sometimes gray first months of the year.

And when the holidays are over, plan a road trip or trip with friends so you have something to look forward to after the attic is unwrapped and the beautiful twinkling lights return.

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