Beating Holiday Stress
It is possible to survive the holiday frenzy without feeling frantic -- if you know how. Here are top tips from some of the nation's leading stress experts.
Strategy:Put whatever's stressing
you in perspective. Chances are your stress level isn't high because you're
running for your life from an attacking lion. So just imagine explaining your
angst over failing to create a Martha Stewart table to a really empathetic
giraffe. If your holiday woes would sound like utter nonsense to the giraffe,
you're describing stressors of your own making and you can conquer
Tip 1. Ratchet down stress by lowering expectations. Remember, those
Norman Rockwell families are strictly two-dimensional -- don't expect them to
bear much resemblance to your own family gatherings. "For people living at
the other end of the country, this is often one of the few or only times of the
year to see some people of great significance,'' Sapolsky observes. The result:
"this stressful pressure to cram all this emotion and bonding and intimacy into a very hectic few
days.'' Expect some irritations and imperfections, then relax and have a good
time in spite of them.
Tip 2. Don't go it alone. While the notion of holiday stress
conjures up visions of jam-packed mall parking lots and tense dinners with the
in-laws, many people suffer stress because they face the holidays by
themselves. Sapolsky advises getting proactive by connecting with family,
friends, even others who face similar isolation.
Tip 3. Remember the reason for the season. Some people find the
holiday season stressful because it seems robbed of its authentic meaning.
Instead they are awash in a culture conspiring to crassly cash in on something
that once had great personal significance. The antidote, says Sapolsky:
"Take the time and effort to reaffirm what this season really means to you,
whether it is about family, community, religion. Go help someone in need, to
help yourself reaffirm what it is all about.''
Stress Master: Eric Brown, spokesman
for the Center for a New American Dream, a Maryland-based, nonprofit
organization urging Americans to shift their consumption to improve quality of
life and the environment.
Strategy: Learn how to have more fun
with less stuff! (A 1998 poll commissioned by the center and conducted by EDK
Associates of New York found that 44% of Americans feel pressure to spend more
than they can afford at holiday time, and only 28% report the holidays leave
them feeling "joyful.")
Tip 1. Give the gifts money can't buy. By getting creative, you can
avoid the stresses of traffic, crowded department stores -- and that lingering
dissatisfaction that you spend a small fortune on generic gifts. Four out of
five people say they would prefer a photo album filled with childhood memories
to a store-bought gift. "My 65-year-old mother has all the stuff she needs,
so I gave a donation in her honor to the county food bank,'' says Brown.
"People increasingly are finding new ways to think outside the box -- to
give gifts that show the relationship between the giver and the recipient.''
Other ideas: Adopt a koala bear in a child's name at the local zoo. Create an
audio or video of a family elder reminiscing for their children and
grandchildren. Illustrate and write a homemade story featuring your child as
the main character. Make coupons redeemable for backrubs or homemade brownies.
Or write to celebrities, asking for an autograph dedicated to the
Tip 2. Lick overspending. It takes an average of four months for a
credit card user to pay off stress-inducing holiday bills, according to a 1999
report by the American Bankers Association. Instead try this: Decide how much
you can afford to spend for each person on your list, then put that amount in
cash in an envelope with that person's name on it. When the envelope is empty,
you're done - no exceptions. Or freeze your credit cards in a jug of water, or
mail them to a friend until the holidays are history. "The more you can
inject a sense of humor and make it a game, the easier it'll be to live within
your means,'' Brown says.
Tip 3. Follow your holiday bliss. "My wife and daughter and I
actually prefer to just go away,'' Brown says. "We rent a cabin for
Christmas Eve, Christmas, and the day after. It forces us leave all the
distractions behind and just enjoy being together. We get in touch with what
the holidays are all about.''