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How to Shake 'Holiday Gift' Anxiety

Experts share tips for avoiding anxiety during the holiday gift-giving season.

The Creative Approach

Be creative. Remember that a gift doesn't always need to wrapped, and the gift of time is cherished.

"Spending hours in holiday traffic buying gifts for people who don't need them is an exercise in frustration," Robinson tells WebMD. "Perhaps some people would prefer to spend more time together rather than exchange wrapped gifts. Others might prefer a donation to charity or simply a Christmas card or phone call. Find some way to show love for family and friends beyond gift-giving. Saying appreciative words, being more warm and accepting, helping out, or overlooking faults can spread holiday cheer better than the most elaborate table setting, festive drink, or gift."

Don't get competitive. "So many people feel like they need to buy an expensive gift for someone because last year the person bought them an expensive gift, and this year they need to make up for it," says Jenn Berman, PhD, a psychologist in private practice in Beverly Hills, Calif. who specializes in family therapy.

"Or they're competing with a family member who always buys expensive gifts." Either way, it's a recipe for holiday disaster. Give because you want to make someone happy, not because you want to win.

The Receiving End

The act of receiving gifts is also an art, and admittedly, some of us are much better at it than others. While one person cringes when they open a badly wrapped fruit cake from Aunt Matilda, another jumps for joy -- even though it's moldy. But keep in mind, the holidays are never perfect, and neither are all of the gifts you'll open.

"Most people feel a lot of pressure to give the perfect gift, create the perfect holiday, and make every holiday like a Norman Rockwell painting," Berman tells WebMD. "But the truth is that the realities of the holidays are imperfect, and if you can accept the imperfections of the holidays, you can relax and enjoy them more."

Unwanted Gifts

When you get a gift and it meows and hisses, a la the Griswold family in the movie Christmas Vacation, here are tips on how to handle it well:

Simply smile. "Whatever you get, simply say, 'I'm so glad you were thinking of me and it means so much to me that you took the time and effort to pick this out and it's wonderful,'" says Robinson.

When you're empty handed. "The hard thing is to accept a gift when you haven't gotten something for the person who gave you one," says Robinson. "So you respond with, 'It's really wonderful, you're such a generous person. I didn't expect this and thank you so much.' Resist the urge to go out and make it even-steven -- that's not what it's about."

When you really don't like it. "Miss Etiquette would tell you if it's the wrong size, it doesn't fit, it's the wrong color, don't ask 'Where did you get it so I can return it?'" says Robinson. "I think that is all pretty rude. You thank them for what they did and you appreciate it. If you're going to take it back, don't mention it and don't make them feel inadequate for it."

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