Don’t Sweat Family Holidays

Stress reduction for the holidays starts with a little structure and a lot of flexibility

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) Holiday gatherings can trigger stress from disrupted plans to concentrated face time with family. A psychiatrist from Vanderbilt created a list of tips to help cope with holiday chaos.

Balancing schedules, being flexible, accepting everyone and sticking to a budget are a great place to start managing holiday stressors.

“Try to be honest with one another with gratitude for the gifts of love and friendship we bring to the table, and not faulting each other for our inevitable imperfections,” said Dr. Keith G. Meador.

"Be flexible during the holiday bustle."

Keith G. Meador, MD, MPH, professor of Psychiatry and Preventive Medicine and director of the Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, talked about lowering holiday stress.

Dr. Meador said, “Holidays bring out yearning and hope, but also excessive expectations that everything is going to be perfect, or feelings of regret that things aren’t like they used to be, or that things have never been the way you want them.”

“It should be a season of anticipatory hope, rather than expectations of illusionary perfection.”

Dr. Meador developed a list of tips to reduce stress in family-centered holiday gatherings:

Keep a little routine going:

  • Holidays are notorious for disrupting schedules with traveling, changes in eating times and size of meals, holiday shopping and derailed bedtimes and sleeping in. Changes in routine are stressful for both kids and adults.
  • Try not throwing caution to the wind and keep a little structure to rely on for stability for the holidays, even if it means not committing to every invitation or fulfilling every obligation.

Accept change:

  • Holidays are a time of multiple variables. Plans change as entire families try to schedule things together or around each other.
  • Part of the holiday experience is going with the flow when plans change and not getting bent out of shape over tardiness or cancellations.

Be thankful:

  • Despite cozy depictions on greeting cards, holidays are not perfect. It’s not about lowering expectations, but rather being thankful for what exists.

Accept family members:

  • Ideals of perfect holidays can provoke the desire to criticize or be impatient with family members. This attitude doesn’t help. Truly accepting everyone will put relatives at ease and improve the quality of the gathering.

Spend within means: 

  • Maxing out the credit card on presents is tempting, but it’s completely unnecessary to ensure a great holiday. Holiday stress often centers around budgetary concerns. Plan a budget and stick to it.

There was good and bad and there will continue to be:

  • New Year’s brings a sense of hitting a re-start button to create a perfect year starting on day one. Unrealistic expectations can only end in disappointment. Accept that the new year will have both joy and disappointment.

These holiday recommendations to manage stress were published in December through Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 18, 2012
Last Updated:
December 24, 2012