Bah, Humbug? How to Cope With Holiday Stress

Travel. Family. Last-minute Shopping. Here’s how to keep the season merry.

Stressed woman sitting at desk and speaking on phone surrounded by Christmas presents, decorations, alarm clock and calculator over dark background.
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Also keep in mind that you may be creating stress for others without realizing it. By trying to make conversation with good intentions, you could accidentally bring up sensitive topics. How's the book coming? When are you two getting married? How's the job hunt? Avoid these land-mine conversations by simply asking, "What's keeping you busy these days?" suggests Rubin. "Then people answer with whatever is most important to them, be it work, play, or a hobby."

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Braving the mall for last-minute gifts. Crowded parking lots, blaring Christmas music, other shoppers swarming like vultures to grab the last Kindle. You're not the only one who finds holiday shopping stressful, and there's a good chance others won't be handling it so well. "Put on your blinders and go your own way," Reiss says. The toy aisle is clogged? Go check out the sweaters and come back later. Notice another shopper cutting in line and want to set her straight? Laugh it off instead. "Engage with someone who is under pressure and irrational, and you're not going to get a rational response," Reiss says. "It's going to make things worse."

If it's overspending you're worried about, consider leaving the credit card at home and bringing only as much cash as you can afford to spend. "When it's done, it's done," Rubin says.

[See From the Health and Fitness Experts: Healthy Gift Ideas]

Receiving a terrible gift. We've all been there. The whole family is watching, including the gift-giver, as you unwrap a package to discover a horrific sweater, one size too small and six stripes too many. "Be kind and say thank you," says Hall, and "be as low-key as possible." Don't fake that you absolutely adore it, or guess what? You'll be getting that same kind of sweater for the next 10 Christmases." Take it all in stride. "It's not a tragedy, so keep some perspective," Reiss says. "It's not like Santa has abandoned you."

You still have to send holiday cards. At this point, you have a handful of business days for your cards to be delivered, barring some blizzard that closes the post office. Not to mention that you still have to make a run for a book of stamps, and oh right—actually buy the cards. Skip the greetings this season and send Valentine's Day cards instead, Rubin suggests. "Everything is so much easier in January and February," she says. After all, you've got enough to stress about for now.

[See From the Health and Fitness Experts: Healthy Gift Ideas]