HEALTHY LIVING
12/25/2012 10:38 am ET

How To Cope With Holiday Stress

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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Cope With Holiday Stress

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