Help for Holiday Stress

The holidays can be a particularly difficult time for relationships. Taking time to plan, changing the way you view this time of year, and finding support may lead to a more enjoyable season.

You can reduce holiday pressures by expecting stressful situations to occur. Be ready for late airplanes and overcrowded stores by taking a book and your music with you.

To avoid major crowds, shop on a weekday if you can. Rather than putting more pressure on yourself by trying to find the "perfect gift", find ones that you think people will enjoy. If money is a problem, charging everything only makes things worse. Take time to budget to avoid post-holiday spending regrets.

Another relatively simple way to enjoy the season a bit more is by changing the way you view them in the first place. Ask yourself which aspects of the holidays are within your control to change. As Holidays Anonymous (HA!) says, have the courage to change the things you can, surrender to the inevitable aspects of the holiday season (gift-buying, family pressures, and stress), and have the wisdom to know the difference.

Another spin you can try this year is to view the holidays with a sense of humor. There are so many things that can go wrong, it can be downright ridiculous. If it is, laugh! It sure beats throwing yams across the dinner table.

Speaking of comedy (or drama), if you are visiting your family of origin, one thing you can do to prevent getting involved in family squabbles is to become a "family archaeologist." By observing how your family interacts, you can learn more about how growing up in your family helped shape your personality. And by staying objective, you can keep some distance from family dramas.

If things get a little rough, do something to give yourself a break. Take a breather outside, call a friend, offer to go to the store to pick up a few things or to walk the dog, or go to a gym which offers daily memberships.

For some people, there is an inevitable family melt-down. Decide beforehand if it's worth a fight, or see if there are some creative alternatives. For example, politely inform your family members that for every snarky remark about your political persuasion, you'll be sending a dollar to your favorite political organization.

Not every snarky remark, however, deserves a response, especially if it's coming from someone who's drunk! Send a letter to the offender after the holidays, or wait until your initial anger has subsided. Above all, decide ahead of time which battles to pick. And if you're planning on having any serious discussions with any of your family members this year, rehearse what you would say, talk about it with your friends or significant other, and consider possible reactions.

If you're in a relationship, talk to each other about your expectations. If your family of origin tends to drag you or your partner into family squabbles, strategize beforehand – come up with a code word that it's time to leave the room or to stop going into a rabbit hole once it becomes apparent. Hopefully, thinking about these and other questions beforehand will foster discussion – and solutions.

If the holidays are a rough time of year because you are missing a friend or partner who has passed away, instead of (or in addition to) being upset about feeling the loss, remember that feeling bad means you cared deeply for the person, that the person really meant a lot to you. To make the season more bearable, do something in honor of your loved one, maybe something he or she would have wanted you to do.

On the other hand, isolating is the worst thing you could possibly do, so make every effort to surround yourself with other people. Depression and isolation go hand-in-hand, and they can turn into a vicious cycle of pushing people away, getting more depressed, which leads to more isolating, etc.

Furthermore, many people cope with difficult aspects of the season by drinking, drugging, and overeating. This only adds to stress, but alcohol and drugs fuel depression and anxiety. Try not to give in to the temptation to overindulge.

If you can't, ask yourself: is escapism or avoidance a way to cope, or more seriously, an addiction? If so, get the assistance you need at the start of the New Year.

Finally, if you've decided that there's nothing you can do that will help you survive the holidays intact, turn your attention to the coming year. Remind yourself that the next year is right around the corner, and you'll have the opportunity to forget about the holidays for another year. But since the holiday season is one-sixth of the year (and getting longer with each passing year), you might want to consider ways to make it better.

Here are 15 more tips to make your holidays better:

Expect stress to occur:

1) Make a vow to be calm during stressful situations.

2) Consider taking public transportation or a cab to the airport. Go early, maybe grab a lunch or dinner while you're there (airport food is getting better all the time – unfortunately the same can't be said for airline food!)

3) Plan more than usual. For plane travel, find out if there’s a later flight to the same destination so you can take a later flight if your flight is cancelled.

4) Remember that everyone, including mall and airport employees, makes mistakes. Flying off the handle makes things worse for everyone. And if you piss off the wrong person, you may be going to New York but your luggage may end up in Miami.

Don’t make things worse:

5) Don’t overeat to the point of regret. Make a plan for eating and do your best to stick to it. Enlist your partner or friends to help you.

6) Don’t drink or use drugs more than your usual amount. Be a designated driver for one or two parties.

When you’re going home for the holidays:

7) Not every rude remark deserves a response. Decide ahead of time which battles to pick.

8) Limit your family visits to two or three days.

Find ways to cope with the unpleasant aspects of the holidays:

9) If this time of year is hard for you, enlist the support of others. Talk to a friend. If you’re in a 12-step program, go to more meetings and talk to your sponsor. If your sponsor is out of town, talk with someone else in the program.

10) Journal your thoughts and feelings.

11) Instead of isolating, make every effort to surround yourself with other people.

Examine the way you view the holidays:

12) If you think, that people should conform to your expectations and standards, it only leads to more stress.

13) If you think that the holidays should be less commercialized, forget it.

14) Infuse the holidays with more meaning, such holiday as adding rituals and trying to create good memories.

15) Give of yourself.