The holidays are packed with good tidings and cheer, but they can also bring stress.
"It's that time of year when stress over time, money and relationships all come to a head," said Pauline Wallin, a psychologist in private practice in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. Here are seven surefire steps to defuse holiday stress.
Leave the good ol' days behind
Nothing is as perfect as a memory. Idealizing holidays past can lead to unrealistic expectations, a key culprit behind holiday stress, according to Dr. Carol Goldberg, a New York-based psychologist. The food, the gifts and even the interactions people have with family members won't be perfect, and that is OK, said Goldberg, who is also host and producer of the weekly TV program "Dr. Carol Goldberg and Company."
Stay cool at family functions
Everyone has a weird Uncle Frank or an obnoxious Cousin Betty who really knows how to stir the pot. Instead of dreading that next encounter at the family Christmas party, "pretend you are watching a movie of yourself speaking with them where you are just the observer," said Wallin. "This strategy allows people to detach themselves from the situation and from any uncomfortable feelings they may have toward the person," she said.
Make a list, check it twice
Even if the holiday crunch is overwhelming, it's not too late to get organized. Just like Santa Claus, the key to staying organized is to make a list, said Dr. Lauren Weber, a family practitioner and women's health fellow at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. "Include who you still need to buy presents for and what you want to spend," Weber said. Going online and doing some research about what to buy and where to find it will make that last-minute trip to the mall less stressful, she added.
Make sleep a priority
To shine this holiday season, remember this one simple rule: Get plenty of sleep (at least seven to eight hours a night). When it is time for a pick-me-up, think twice about reaching for that cup of joe. "Excessive caffeine intake can make you feel even more anxious," Weber said.
Choose to move
Research shows that people who exercise regularly tend to have lower rates of anxiety and depression than sedentary people. When pressed for time, get creative park at the far end of the lot, take the stairs, or take a walk to admire neighborhood lights and decorations, Weber advised.
Carve out some alone time
Even in the swirl of holiday parties and activities, schedule some quiet time each day. Read a chapter from a book, meditate or listen to favorite songs, Weber said.
Keep a realistic perspective on gift-giving
With all the emphasis on holiday gifts, it's easy to assume people would remember and appreciate what they received. But chances are, most people can't recall what they got for Christmas last year and neither can the kids. Material gifts are not as important as most individuals think, and the amount of money spent is not as important as the value of the gift to the recipient, Wallin said.
"During my 30 years as a psychologist, not once has anyone ever come to me and said they still resent their parents for not buying them the newest, hottest toy for Christmas," Wallin said. "Your relationship with your kids is not based on what gifts you get them for Christmas."