November 17, 2004 | By: Ellen Brightwell

We are bombarded with idealized holiday images of perfect harmony and blissful togetherness in television shows, advertisements, songs and greeting cards this time of year. Unrealistic expectations and financial and time constraints often lead to stress during the holiday season.

"Developing realistic expectations about the holidays is a way to avoid unnecessary disappointment and stress," said Gary Hansen, Extension sociologist with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. "When the reality of holidays does not live up to the ideal, it creates stress that detracts from enjoyable and memorable experiences. Just because your family's holidays are not 'perfect' like those portrayed in the media or other scenes does not mean something is wrong with your family. You and your family are more likely to enjoy the holidays if you do not compare them with an unattainable ideal."

Another way to relieve potential holiday stress is to do a better job of managing time and money. Develop realistic expectations about what you and family members
have the time to accomplish without pushing yourselves to the point that you are too exhausted to enjoy the holidays. Analyze the time and money invested in each holiday activity and decide if these costs are worth the end result.

"It is easy to procrastinate during the holidays because there are so many demands on your time," Hansen said. "Instead of leaving things until the last minute, list those you want, not need, to do. Estimate how much time each will take, establish a work schedule and divide tasks and responsibilities among each family member."

Stress can build up when multiple events disrupt the family routine within a short timeframe. Research shows that families are better able to cope with stress when they have interchangeable roles in such activities as childcare, homemaking and recreation. So when the baby needs to be changed or it is time to serve dinner, the person who is available performs the task regardless of traditional expectations of whose role it is.

Have sensible expectations about what you have the time to accomplish. You may need to refuse some time-consuming requests or buy cookies instead of making them to keep from being too exhausted to enjoy the holidays.

Hansen said it is important to schedule time to maintain family meal and physical activity schedules. Get plenty of sleep, make time to enjoy the family and friends and devote some private time to relax by reading a book, listening to music or undertaking other pleasurable activities.

A realistic, affordable spending plan always should be at the center of holiday activities, he said.

"Expensive gifts are not a sign of love and caring," he said. "The true value of the holidays is not measured by how much money is spent or how many gifts are received. Families can have memorable holiday experiences without spending a lot of money. Discuss the financial situation as a family to develop a budget based on realistic expectations of what you can afford, and stick to that budget."

Changes in routines and the more hectic holiday pace may create stress by interfering with family communication. To keep the lines of communication open, make a conscientious effort to use the twin skills of listening and expressing.

"Expect some 'bumps in the road' to memorable family holidays because someone may get sick or the weather may interrupt or force changes in events," Hansen said. "Do not let unexpected events ruin your holidays. Instead, be adaptable and flexible so others can make the best of the situation. Remember to breathe deeply and, of course, laugh."


Writer: Ellen Brightwell 859-257-4736, ext. 257
Source: Gary Hansen 859-257-3471