The golden rules for surviving holiday stress start with giving up unrealistic expectations

The holidays can be a joyous season, a chance to spend quality time with family and friends and take a break from daily routine. But for many, the holidays can also mean major stress

Shopping, decorating, arranging events — the list is long and time limited. Economic circumstances also have us worrying about how we’re going to pay for all the extras, and it all adds up to make this a stressful time of year. 


There can also be family strife and feelings of loneliness. According to the Crisis Line for Metro Vancouver, the number of calls received about relationship conflict increases by 33 per cent during the holiday season.


Psychologists have some golden rules to help us survive the holidays. And it starts with giving up unrealistic expectations. 


4 Tips for Surviving Holiday Stress

1. Be Realistic

According to clinical psychologist Dr. Jeffrey Janata at Case Medical Centre in Cleveland, Ohio, family gatherings can be a major source of stress. "If you’re setting yourself up for perfect, then you’re bound to be disappointed," he says. "We have images of happy home and hearth, presents, wonderful meals that are exquisite and Martha Stewart-esque."

But in the real world, those Hallmark moments come only in greeting cards. The trick is to keep things in perspective.


"Embrace that [thought] as opposed to try to make it better, as opposed to try to make it dressier, or the food better or to somehow hope that family squabbles aren’t going to erupt," says Dr. Janata.


2. Go Outside

To limit family squabbles in close quarters, Vancouver clinical psychologist Dr. Michal Regev suggests planning some time outdoors to give everyone some space. "There’s about a thousand times more light outside than inside and light has been found to be very helpful in terms of mood and stress," explains Dr. Regev. 


But if you can't get outdoors, to minimize boredom or having things go awry, she suggests limiting alcoholic beverages and planning a few different indoor activities where people can pick what they’d like to do. 


3. Create New Holiday Traditions

In modern times, coping in blended families can be stressful for both adults and children. Experts say it’s important to create some new holiday traditions to provide comfort and a sense of connectedness. Research shows families that follow traditions tend to be more resilient. 


And if you’re alone this holiday season, try creating new traditions for yourself. Instead of focusing on sadness or loneliness, consider volunteering to help those who have less. You can make a big difference. Make an effort to seek out the company of happy people because happiness really does rub off on others. 


4. Consider the Meaning of Christmas

Finally, take a moment to reaffirm what this season really means — a sense of peace and goodwill toward others — because an event in itself cannot stress you out; it’s all how you look at it. 


Have a happy and healthy holiday season!

Originally published in TV Week. For daily updates, subscribe to the free TV Week e-newsletter, or purchase a subscription to the weekly magazine.