November 16, 2013 5:38:47 PM
JACKSON - Family gatherings, marathon cooking sessions and shopping trips induce waves of anxiety instead of moments of joy for some.
"Some families feel a lot of pressure to create the perfect holiday experience by buying the latest toys for the kids, traveling to visit extended family and attending every party," said Cassandra Kirkland, family life specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service.
Families who overspend on gifts, have strained relations with relatives or mismanage holiday preparation time can feel anxious or depressed as the holidays approach. Newly married couples may have trouble navigating new family traditions, such as deciding a schedule for visiting family or a budget for gift-giving, Kirkland said.
Dealing with the recent loss of a loved one is more difficult during the holidays, said Karen Benson, Extension child and family development agent in Neshoba County. Try starting new traditions.
"If it's the first Christmas without a spouse or child, plan to attend activities or volunteer time in community organizations," Benson said. "Set realistic expectations with the understanding that grief can be sporadic and overwhelming, but it is normal."
Kirkland said setting realistic expectations is an important way to cope with all holiday stressors.
"Family members may not interact in full harmony. Your kids may not be as excited about their gifts as you had hoped, and your holiday party may have glitches," Kirkland said. "But it's important to focus on the positive elements and try to avoid putting undue pressure on yourself to have a perfect holiday."
Kirkland suggests simplifying the most challenging aspects of the holidays by limiting time spent with difficult family members, drawing names for gift-giving and changing any traditions that are not working well.
Benson said good time management can help families avoid a holiday meltdown.
"Running out of time is the biggest stress trigger for many people," she said. "Make time to sit down and decide what tasks need doing and when and how you will get them done."
Shoppers with a detailed list can save time by making purchases online and having gift wrapping supplies on hand. Those who plan to host a meal or contribute to a family gathering can make and freeze items, such as cookie dough, casseroles and unfrosted cakes, ahead of time, Benson said.
The holidays can be more enjoyable if people take time to enjoy themselves instead of rushing to meet every deadline. Benson suggests reserving one weekday evening and one weekend day and evening to relax at home.
"Going to meetings and parties back-to-back becomes exhausting," she said. "Time to relax is essential, whether it's time alone in front of the fire with hot chocolate and music or a fun outing with a close friend."
By assessing which elements of this holiday season are most trying, families can take steps to reduce next year's worry.
"If holiday spending busted the budget, seek financial counseling to help set realistic limits," Benson said. "This is also a good time to reframe priorities. Instead of thinking, 'How can I do more?' ask yourself, "What brings the most meaning to me and my family?'"
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