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Holidays can be Stressful for Those with Unrealistic Expectations, MU Psychology Expert Says

Dec. 5, 2007

Story Contact:  Jennifer Faddis, (573) 882-6217,
Laurie Mintz, (573) 882-4947,

COLUMBIA, Mo. – For some, Christmas is anticipated with unbridled excitement. For others, this time of year can bring stress and nervousness. A University of Missouri psychology expert says the key to a happy holiday season is realistic expectations.

 “The notion that everything should be so wonderful and perfect during the holiday season is unrealistic,” said Laurie Mintz, associate professor of educational, school and counseling psychology in the MU College of Education. “Don’t expect an abysmal holiday, but do have realistic expectations. Hopefully, there will be joyful moments, but also anticipate ups and downs.”

 Have realistic expectations when it comes to spending time with family. It is important to find a balance between family connections and individual boundaries. Mintz says people often struggle between doing what they are “supposed to do” and doing what they want to do. She suggests clearly communicating decisions about where to spend the holiday time and letting family members know the process used to determine the decision. Be honest about feeling torn. If serious issues exist, seek therapy to work through feelings and emotions in advance to be better able to deal with whatever issues may arise during the holidays.

 The lack of time or the “holiday crunch” is often a great source of stress for many people. Mintz says people often try to stretch themselves too thin by attending everything they are invited to. It’s okay to say no and choose fewer events to attend. This allows people to slow down and enjoy each event. Another source of stress, especially for women, is the plethora of holiday food available throughout November and December. Mintz suggests self-care and an exercise routine, which decreases overall stress in the long run.

 “Stop comparing yourself to everyone around you,” Mintz said. “It always seems like everyone else is handling the season better than you, but that is only because everyone puts on their happy face in front of others. Slow down and talk to people; you will find that they are stressed too and just sharing thoughts and feelings with others may make you feel better.”

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