When Dec. 1 strikes and the holidays loom, the list of gifts you need to buy grows. And so does your anxiety. Will my sister-in-law really like a hot pink scarf? Will the DVD I bought my father measure up to the gift my brother gave him? And how in the name of all that is wrapped in a big red bow can a person make it through to January with his wallet and sanity still intact? For most of us, it's enough to call a moratorium on the holidays.
But what to our wondering eyes should appear but tips from experts who tell WebMD how to survive the wrapping paper mayhem of gift giving and receiving and dig deep for some cheer and spirit.
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"The holidays are supposed to be a time full of joy and cheer, parties and family gatherings," says James Radack, vice president of public affairs for the National Mental Health Association. "But many factors help make the holidays so stressful: fatigue, unrealistic expectations, commercialization, financial constraints, and the inability to be with one's family and friends."
Wrapped up in shiny paper with each one of these factors is the act of gift giving. Among its negative aspects: Gift giving makes us tired and the people we buy for are sometimes unhappy with their gifts. It can also be a drain on our finances. And often we have to ship the gifts by mail, taking the joy out of giving all together.
The Art of Giving
This year, before the anxiety sets in and your list of gifts grows longer, approach your shopping from a different angle. Instead of wrapping until your fingers bleed and your wallet is empty, put some thought into it. Here are tips on the art of giving:
Pick a name, any name. "Do a gift exchange where you pick a name of a family member out of a hat and buy a present for only that person," says Radack, instead of stressing yourself out by buying for all 30 people in your family. Incidentally, this will also help you stick to a budget.
You guessed it ... stick to a budget. When it comes to making it through the holidays with your head above water, the first thing you should do is plan ahead. Start socking away money in January for the upcoming season. Next, pick a number that doesn't make you cringe, and use it as a budget. Create an account specifically for the holidays, put a set amount in it, and when it's empty, you're done. And remember that a good gift doesn't have to cost a lot.
"As for gift giving, something thoughtful is always welcome and does not have to be expensive," says Radack. "Finances have a huge impact on stress because there are so many expectations when it comes to presents, whether it's at work or with family or friends. It definitely adds to the stress of the holidays, and even after, if people spend beyond their means."
Ask! Instead of just buying willy-nilly, here's a novel idea: Ask your friends and family what they want. You might be surprised.
"Have a frank discussion about gift giving with the people on your list," says Jo Robinson, co-author of Unplug the Christmas Machine. "You want to do more than go through the mechanisms of Christmas. You want to bring people closer together, delight young children, create a beautiful home environment, choose exquisitely appropriate gifts, and on and on."