Newswise — Maywood, IL - Often referred to as the most wonderful time of the year, the holidays also can be the most stressful. According to a 2015 holiday poll conducted by Consumer Reports, Americans are most stressed during the holidays by long lines (68 percent), racking up debt (32 percent) and seeing certain relatives (20 percent).

Loyola Medicine psychologist Michael Hakimi, PsyD, who specializes in stress and anxiety management, offers these tips to help survive the holidays. 

Keeping the Peace Family members don't always get along. "Keep the interaction with difficult relatives to a bare minimum," Dr. Hakimi said. "Stay busy by interacting with family members you care about. "If a difficult relative is adamant about being in your space, avoid engaging, and don't take the bait." Instead, excuse yourself and move on to do something else.   

Coping with Loneliness

The holidays can be the loneliest time of the year because they can trigger feelings of grief and loss. Dr. Hakimi suggests reaching out to people you are close to and talk with them about your feelings.

Dr. Hakimi also recommends doing activities that bring you joy. "Make an effort to engage in activities you really enjoy," Dr. Hakimi said "For example, listening to relaxing music, reading and watching movies—especially comedies."

And if you know someone who's having a hard time during the holidays, let them know that they are not alone. A simple gesture such as a phone call or a dinner invite can make a huge difference for someone coping with grief.

Dinner and Politics Don't Mix

What's happening in Washington, D.C., seems to be on everyone's mind and can cause tension among those with opposing views.

"Avoid engaging in any conversation with individuals who have different religious or political views," said Dr. Hakimi. "Let them know you don't feel comfortable talking about religious or political topics. You can also politely ask if there is another topic they would like to discuss."

Bucking Tradition This may be your first year to host a holiday and you want to please everyone, but it's okay to forgo family traditions to make way for new ones.

"Simply inform your family that you definitely respect holiday customs, however you have decided to do something new and just as fun," Dr. Hakimi said.

Setting Realistic Goals

You may have lofty plans of serving a 12-course meal with all the trimmings, but meeting and setting realistic goals can be just as satisfying. Things don’t have to be perfect for a great time.

"Invite people for desserts and coffee, instead of dinner. Another option is to do a potluck and have everyone bring something to share," said Dr. Hakimi. "This lets everyone feel like they're involved and you can reduce your stress."

Setting & Sticking to a Budget

Dr. Hakimi suggests a less-is-more approach to holiday traditions.

"Simplify as much as possible," he said. "Not everything has to be so elaborate. Set a budget that is workable for you without going into debt."

You can escape the drama of gift giving altogether by giving to those who need it the most.

"Let your family know you decided not to participate in any gift exchange," Dr. Hakimi said. "Instead, you have decided to contribute to a charity or a cause of your choice."

Dr. Hakimi is an assistant professor in Loyola's department of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences. He has more than 30 years of experience in a variety of treatment settings. 

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