How To Cope With Holiday Stress

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By Laura McMullen for U.S. News Health

Remember "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation"? Chevy Chase's character, Clark Griswold, and his family face one disaster after another: An elaborate Christmas light display doesn't work; eccentric family members show up unexpectedly; the tree goes up in flames; and Clark doesn't receive the end-of-year bonus he's been counting on.

With any luck, your holiday won't be filled with quite as many cringe-worthy catastrophes. Still, the movie does teach us one thing about the "most wonderful time of the year:" It's often a farce.

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"The 'perfect holiday' has got to be put in the myth box," says Kathleen Hall, founder and chief executive officer of The Stress Institute in Atlanta. Forget the Norman Rockwell-esque holiday meal, the impeccable wreaths and crafts a la Martha Stewart, and the tree surrounded by mountains of gifts. These ideals rarely reflect reality, Hall says.

Expecting holiday frustrations may sound pessimistic, but doing so will likely lead to a merrier season. "The paradox is that the more realistic you are, the less disappointed you'll be in the moment," says David Reiss, a psychologist based in San Diego, Calif. "The more you can laugh it off and say, 'Ha! Here we go again!' instead of 'What do I do now?' the happier you will be."

U.S. News consulted with a few experts who weighed in on how to keep six common holiday stressors from turning jolly elves into frazzled, wine-guzzling Scrooges.

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