816 North

Avoiding stress makes the holidays more joyful

The holidays can be the most wonderful time of the year — and the most stressful.

“Keep it simple,” believes Kathy Teson, a Kansas City, North, mother of five who admits she didn’t always look forward to this time of year.

Her “aha” moment came one Christmas after spending too much time and money hunting down all the must-have items she thought her kids wanted.

“I remember them tearing into things, but no one being very happy,” she said. Some things didn’t fit; some were the wrong color. Teson realized nobody would remember the gifts, but they all would remember being together as a family.

Now Teson, along with her extended family of 55 siblings, spouses, children and grandchildren, rent a clubhouse and celebrate with a no-gift, no-fuss open house. “We have games for the grandkids, eat on paper plates, order barbecue and fill in with side dishes that everyone brings.”

Dana Priddy of Lone Jack has also lessened the seasonal madness by abandoning the practice of exchanging gifts with adults.

“We have taken the attitude — and have for many years — that we are blessed and none of us needs anything,” she said. “So, instead of driving ourselves crazy trying to think of a gift that someone could use or even want, we donate to each couple’s favorite charity.”

She adds, “We enjoy each other, instead of the pressure of stuff.”

Lillie Plowman of Lee’s Summit, a busy mother of two, manages to juggle it all by sticking to a carefully designed plan. Her December calendar is color coded with everybody’s activities and what needs to get done.

“All of our holiday decorating is done over Thanksgiving weekend,” she said emphatically. “So, whatever decorations are going to be put up, has to happen that weekend or it doesn’t.”

Plowman begins shopping around July and tries to purchase most gifts by Thanksgiving, keeping track of them on an Excel spreadsheet that lists items, recipients, stores and prices. “This Excel workbook goes back to 2003,” she noted with a smile, “so I can see what we purchased in previous years.” Organization is key, she believes. “This way we can focus on the fun, traditional stuff.”

But for some, the holidays can be overwhelming.

Jennifer DaSilva, a licensed professional counselor in Gladstone, sees stress levels intensify during the fall in anticipation of the holidays.

Setting limits and self care, she said, are two ways to rein in the stressors that can run wild during the holidays.

DaSilva offered these coping strategies:

• Be honest. Let family and friends know what will and won’t work for you.

Stick to a budget. Set limits in advance on gift-giving.

• Be assertive about gathering times and dates. Notify your family or host in advance if you can’t stay for the entire event. As a host, set times so guests won’t overstay their welcome.

• Maintain low or no expectations. Having high expectations about events that don’t play out as planned can cause sadness, frustration or anger.

• Be good to yourself. Maintain your energy by getting six to eight hours of sleep nightly. Exercise two to four times a week. (Shopping doesn’t count.) Eat healthy at least 90 percent of the time. Overindulging on sweets, fatty foods and alcohol can cause mood swings and cloud your mental clarity.

• And remember, it’s OK to say no, especially during the holidays.