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Mind Matters: Unhappy Holidays?

Surviving family gatherings and other seasonal stresses.

WebMD Magazine - Feature

Your holiday fantasy: You settle into a comfy chair with your feet up, a cup of eggnog in hand, firelight warming the room. Scents of rare and wonderful foods drift through your perfectly decorated house. You are comforted by thoughts of peace on earth, goodwill toward all, family harmony, and merry times spent with friends and relatives.

The reality: Jostling crowds, traffic jams, shopping lists that grow ever longer. Extra cooking, cleaning, and decorating chores. Winter colds and flu. Travel. A stress level that just about sends you over the edge.

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Can the holidays truly be happy? And more important, how can you cope with the stresses of the season? WebMD talked with the National Mental Health Association (NMHA), whose experts say the trick is to get real, lower your expectations, and remember that your family isn't perfect-and neither are you.

Here are some helpful hints from the NMHA to help you make your holidays as happy -- and headache-free -- as possible.

Set realistic goals
This is key for keeping expectations simple -- for yourself and others.

Make a budget and stick to it
Financial worries add more stress. Don't try to keep up with everyone else. Spend what youcan afford. Seek out free activities.

Don't overdo
Try not to overeat or drink excessively to escape stressful feelings. Eat healthy foods and get plenty of exercise. Allow for extra time when traveling.

Pace yourself
The holidays are more than one day; spread enjoyable activities throughout the entire season.

Try to stay in the present
Look forward to the future. Life is full of change. Consider what is important in your life and good about these times. Don't set yourself up by comparing today with the good old days.

Organize your time
Make a list and star the important activities. Be realistic about what you can and cannot do.

Honor your own feelings
Remember that the holiday season does not banish reasons for feeling sad or lonely. There is room for these feelings to be present.

Spend time with supportive and caring people
Don't waste your energy on "toxic" people or distant acquaintances.

Save time for yourself
Recharge your batteries. Let others share some of the responsibilities.

Reviewed on November 01, 2005

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