Holidays can be a magical, joyous and exciting time of year. The perfect tree has been found and decorated. Presents are carefully wrapped and placed around the tree. The holiday meal is prepared and awaiting family and friends for the perfect Christmas and holiday gathering. So what’s wrong with this picture? Unless your family is a representation of a Norman Rockwell painting, there is a lot left to be desired.

For many, the holiday season can be joyous and exciting, but can be equally stressful. Fighting for parking spaces in the mall, long lines at the check out, finding last minute bargains, freezing cold weather, job loss, economic crisis not to mention having in-laws, parents and siblings who have less than a cordial relationship in the same room spells out holiday stress in a big way!

Surviving holiday stress may be unavoidable, but there are a number of things that can be done to stay the needle on our stress meter. Setting limits with the amount of time spent with family or friends is a good first step. Anyone with children can tell you a crate full of small children dragged from grandparents to in-laws will admit it’s not easy and makes for cranky children and parents by night’s end. Time limits and setting boundaries will make for overall improved quality time spent with friends and loved ones. In addition, limit spending on gifts or participate in a grab bag to ease a financial hangover or be creative and make homemade gifts. Homemade gifts are more personable and special and will save you from an avalanche of credit card bills come January.

Along with setting boundaries and time limitation, moderation is another excellent way to manage holiday stress. Ever heard the phrase “Too much of anything is a bad thing”? Well, it’s true especially around the holidays when homemade cookies, candy and treats are in abundance, not to mention all the holiday parties that can lead many of us into trouble. The best way to handle food around the holidays is to eat small frequent meals and remember to eat plenty of whole grains and vegetables, which will provide quality sustainable energy and prevent a sugar high/crash.

Aside from the obvious GO, GO, GO of the holiday season, many people struggle with grief and loss of friends and loved ones. If you happen to have lost a loved one this year as I have, memories of Christmas and the holiday season can bring a flood of emotions ranging from happy to inconsolable grief. Honor your feelings and allow yourself to remember happier times. Talk openly with friends, family or a therapist about your feelings. Most importantly, do not force feelings you don’t have. Instead, be open and honest. Chances are family members have similar feelings.

The keys to surviving holiday stress include: moderating time, money and holiday treats, setting boundaries with family and friends and honoring feelings which will lead to a more joyous holiday season for you and your family. From all of us at Heritage Counseling Center may all of you have a very blessed and joyful holiday season!

Written by: Nicole Majka, LCPC, CDVP