November 19, 2003 | By: Laura Skillman

With the holidays right around the corner, images of blissful days spent with family and friends enjoying meals, music and companionship are conjured up in our minds.

The problem is those blissful settings generally only happen in the movies or in commercials. In reality, the holidays often mean an increased demand on time and money.

"Holidays are often busy and stressful times," said Gary Hansen, Extension sociologist in the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. "It's also stressful when the reality of the holidays does not live up to the ideal. This can detract from our ability to have enjoyable and memorable holiday experiences.”

He said the key to enjoying the holiday season is to have realistic expectations. High expectations are fostered by media, advertisements and songs. Our culture bombards us with idealized images of the holidays, he said.

When experiences do not live up to the ideal, a person may feel disappointed, upset or worse. This contributes to holiday stress. Signs of stress can include feeling overwhelmed, an inability to focus and concentrate and irritability, Hansen said. 

Money is a good place to start in developing realistic expectations, he said.

Don't fall for the materialistic message that expensive gifts are a sign of love and caring. Remind yourself that it is possible for your family to have memorable holiday experiences without spending a great deal of money. Discuss your financial situation as a family and develop a holiday budget that is based on realistic expectations of what you can afford and stick to that budget.

It is also important to have realistic expectations about the number of things you will have time to do. Invitations and requests to participate in various activities on top of the activities you already have planned with family can add to the stress.

Even with good time management, it is sometimes impossible to get everything done without becoming tense, exhausted and irritable.

Planning also is important to avoid stress. Careful advance planning allows for adequate time to complete tasks without fatigue. It is also important to stay flexible, and be prepared to refuse requests that don't fit our plans.

The hectic pace and changed routines of the holiday season also can result in ineffective communication between family members.

While communication is important all year long, practicing effective listening and expressing is particularly crucial during the busy holiday season. When used in combination with problem-solving skills and compromise, effective communication can help create memorable holiday experiences for the entire family.

Being realistic about the holidays is not being cynical, Hansen said. It is a way to avoid unnecessary disappointment and stress. Families are more likely to truly enjoy their holiday experiences if they are not judging them against some unattainable ideal.

Real people and real families are not perfect, Hansen said. Don't expect them to be. There may be a few rough spots, but you can still come out of the holidays with some precious family experiences.



Writer: Laura Skillman 270-365-7541 ext. 278
Source: Gary Hansen, 859-257-7586