ENTERTAINMENT
12/17/2014 03:44 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

9 Ways To Cope With Holiday Stress

“My dad used to say, in his more cynical moments, that this time of year is when we feel compelled to be with family we don't really know for too long a time in too small a space — and spend money on things nobody needs,” says Dr. Phil. “Maybe he was a bit of a Scrooge — or maybe he was on to something.”

If the holidays are stressing you out, or too much family time is turning you into a Grinch, consider Dr. Phil’s advice:

1. Lower your expectations.
What typically gets people upset or bent out of shape is not what actually happens, but having their expectancies violated. So ask yourself: Are your expectations over the holidays realistic? Did you have a vision in your head that resembled a movie with everyone gathered around the table for a dinner that starts precisely on time, all the kids behaving, Clydesdales clopping by outside, and the snow starting to fall just as the children wished for it? No wonder you end up disappointed! If your expectations are not realistic, start lowering them or at least giving yourself a reality check so you’re not frustrated.

2. Lighten up and go with the flow.
Take a step back and relax. When your family gets on your nerves, laugh it off. Come on, so what if your great uncle Ned is offensive — does that really have to get under your skin?

3. Don’t turn the holidays into a problem solving session.
Now is not the time to address longstanding family feuds or any other contentious issues. Deal with your family drama another time.

4. Don’t go overboard with family time.
Of course the holidays should be filled with quality family time — but you don’t need to overdo it! For example, you might limit the number of nights you all sleep under one roof. Find an affordable motel nearby or head home a day earlier.

5. Don’t be a martyr.
If preparing a meal is stressful, try making changes. Maybe you need to invite fewer people, serve it buffet style, or have the celebration in a hotel or restaurant. Or what if this year, you only invite your immediate family instead of 100 relatives whose names you can barely remember? Likewise, nobody is giving you points for sweating over a hot stove; there’s no shame in buying pie at the store.

6. Give yourself permission to not have perfection.
The house need not have every light hung precisely in order for the holidays to be memorable and fun, nor does everyone need the most perfect present they’ve ever received. If you had to pick between giving your kids extra attention or spending more time focused on details nobody will notice, it should be a no-brainer.

7. Create new traditions.
Get rid of the “have-tos” and the “should dos.” Especially if the holiday season makes you focus on unresolved pain or guilt from your past, consider creating new traditions. There is no rule that you need to conduct the holidays just like your mother did. If the gift-giving has gotten out of control, consider drawing names so everyone buys just one gift. Or perhaps this year, only the kids will get gifts while the adults sit by the fire. Don’t let guilt control you and throw traditions that don’t work out the door.

8. Remember what the holidays are really about.
Of course you have a gift list you want to conquer and hundreds of outstanding to-do’s before the holidays are in full swing. But family togetherness, spiritual enlightenment and camaraderie with friends are far more important than the overwhelming details. Stop to appreciate all your blessings.

9. Give to others.
If the holidays make you feel empty or lonely, try giving to others. The best way to get filled up with the holiday spirit is to give. Fill up your heart by helping those who are less fortunate.

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