(This segment was planned before the tragic Newtown shootings occurred but upon reflection we decided to do it because, in spite of this dark moment, the spirit and essence of the holiday season is a fundamental affirmation that goodness and light is greater than the evil and darkness in life. Indeed given the recent horrifying events, we need the true spirit of Christmas more than ever and we need to remember that goodness and light will prevail.) ________________________________________________________________________________

The Holidays can be a wonderful time when we celebrate the joy of the season, express our love and get together with our families and friends. But, for some, the holidays are also a time of increased stress and anxiety. Unrealistic expectations pressure us to spend more than our budgets can handle, force us to socialize with folks we don’t like or get along with and cause us to worry that things won’t be perfect. With all of this worry we can lose touch with the true spirit of Christmas.

Today we have some good news. We also have some great tips that can actually help you to make changes that can reduce your stress throughout the yuletide season and make the holidays a truly wonderful time.

Examine Your Holiday Expectations

Unrealistic expectations are harmful because they impose irrational obligations on our behavior and generate unnecessary emotional pain. The simplest way to break the spell that faux obligations have on us is to simply ask some basic questions: “Why ?”. Why do I have to spend more than I have? Will it mean that I love a person less if I don’t ? Why do I have to spend a lot of time with folks I don’t get along with? Why do I have to be perfect ?

Be Prepared

Anticipate the worst parts of the situation and think about how you can deal with it more effectively. Coping with the holidays means not being naïve or forgetting the past. If you take a minute, you can probably identify the worst rub points whatever the situation. Again, rather than just reacting in the moment, plan ahead and ask yourself what would make the situation easier ? What less expensive alternatives are there? How could I shorten a visit or keep the conversation on more neutral topic? Accept I can’t do everything, prioritize the things that are most important and don’t worry about the rest.

Have an Emergency Exit Plan

No matter how much we plan, life is always filled with surprises. Even though we can’t control events, we can develop an emergency exit plan. In other words, if things happen in which you feel overwhelmed or too anxious to cope, realize that you don’t just have to endure the intolerable and give yourself permission to step back. This may be as simple as going to the bathroom or taking a short walk. The point is to provide an emotional break from the stressful circumstance.

The key to enjoying the holidays is found in realizing that you are not a slave to external expectations or traditions. Giving yourself permission to improvise and innovate will not only bring emotional relief and eliminate unnecessary worry and anxiety, but will also free you up to experience the true joy of the season. And isn’t that what this special time of year is all about ?