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How to Relax and Enjoy the Holidays With Your Partner

Plus 6 Tips for a Stress-Free Season

The holiday season is known for bringing people together – friends, family, loved ones. But the stress that often accompanies the holidays can drive a wedge between happy couples quicker than you can say "yuletide cheer."

According to the Stress Education Center, stress is a combination of demands placed on a person's money, time, emotions and energy and the body's response to those demands. And if stress is not properly dealt with, it can cause the body to become overly tense, leading to headaches, a stiff neck, high blood pressure, an upset stomach or a variety of other minor and major illnesses and conditions.

How much stress comes with the holidays? Dateline NBC and Prevention Magazine conducted a scientific poll to find out. The results? Forty-one percent of those polled said they find Christmas and Hanukkah stressful, rating it right up there with asking the boss for a raise.

Open Up

According to Gail Gross, Ed.D., host of the Houston, Texas-based radio show Let's Talk, miscommunication is great fuel for an already stressful fire. "While communication is important all year long, practicing effective listening is particularly crucial during the busy holiday season," says Gross. "When used in combination with your problem-solving skills and the art of compromise, effective communication can help create memorable holiday experiences for the entire family. Also, find more time to talk. Even during the hectic holiday season, you can make an effort to talk while driving, while doing household chores or while wrapping gifts."

Janet Schmidt, a homemaker from Belleville, Ill., says that much of the holiday time with her husband was spent talking and listening to each other or music while traveling in the car. "When we get really stressed out, we get in the car and go driving," she says. "It's something we do where we don't need a sitter, the kids enjoy the music and it takes us back to a time when we didn't have responsibilities or expectations."

Gauging Your Stress Level

According to Gross, holidays are among the top stressors because of all the changes in normal routine. Often, excess levels of stress are unnoticed because of busy schedules around the holidays, but there are several indicators that the stress level you or your partner is experiencing is bordering on dangerous. The major indicators include:

  • The inability to concentrate
  • Irritability and/or anxiety
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Decreased appetite
  • Being "snappy" and "short" with your partner and/or family
  • Feelings of sadness, loneliness or unexplained anger

"Most commonly the things that cause us the most stress are the things we care about the most, but have the least control over," says Gross. "Our families, upcoming events, bills, the economy, the way people respond and our interaction with our families – including our children – are major stressors that we wish we could control, but often cannot. We need to learn to let go, just a little, and learn to depend on our partner to help us through, especially during times of high stress such as the holiday season."

Reconnecting

The holiday season is the time of the year when it is most apparent that we are juggling too many balls at once – work, family, gift-giving, food preparation, decorating, volunteering, shopping, etc. – and trying to keep them all balanced. According to Gross, one way to beat the stress of the holidays is to get, and stay, in touch with those who are closest to you.

"Spend time with people you love," she says. "You need to balance the time you spend with people 'you have to be around' and those you want to be with. Stress can lessen when you have a place to go, someone to talk to and someone to lean on. And let's not forget about the very-much-needed alone time with your partner. It can make all the difference."

Schmidt says she and her husband de-stress during the week after Christmas, when her daughter spends a day or two with her parents. "We stock up on movies, go grocery shopping just for that day and pick our favorite munchies," she says. "We make it festive and fancy by making up food as if we were having a cocktail party. But it is just for us. We use the good china and crystal, get a bottle of bubbly and then we don't answer the phone and just spend the time together."

Keep It Simple

Another cause of high stress levels during the holiday season is time constraints. We commit to more than we can do in the limited amount of time, says Gross. "Simplify your social calendar," she says. "Attend only those functions you value most or believe to be absolutely necessary. Space events and maintain a flexible, realistic schedule. And wherever possible, use a simple alternative to a complicated task."

Buying gifts online or setting aside time in the months leading up to the holidays to prepare gifts can help ease the Christmas crunch.

Get Quiet

We all need a bit of quiet time to recharge and regroup. According to Gross, this can best be done by taking some individual quiet time. "Schedule some quiet time for your family," she says. "Listen to soothing music and use soft voices. Some families choose to implement a quiet hour, where family members take part in a quiet activity. Individual family members are encouraged to spend this time in their own way – reading, playing quietly, resting or soaking in a tub."

We often measure the success of our holiday seasons against what we see on television, in the movies and by what others expect of us. Gross says that the hard truth is that even the best holiday events are nothing close to perfect. "It's inevitable that at least one or two things will go wrong with every holiday celebration," she says. "The turkey may be dry, the gravy a bit lumpy, a family member does not show or Aunt Joan and Cousin Sally end up fighting – again. Remember, moderation is the key. Keep it simple, take time out and find the 'true spirit of the holidays,' and share this with people who you love or care about."

6 Tips for a Stress-free Season

According to Edel Jarboe, the Santa Barbara, Calif.-based founder of SelfHelpForHer.com, stress-reduced holidays are possible. Here, Jarboe shares 6 tips for a stress-free holiday season:

  • Be realistic about holiday expectations – both yours and the ones others may have of you.
  • Give yourself and others a break. Don't be overly critical if things don't go as planned.
  • Maintain your health. Watch what you eat and drink, get enough sleep and make time for your exercise program.
  • Money worries can also add to the stress of the holiday season. Shop within your budget and plan in advance when, how and where you will shop.
  • Make time for yourself to replenish your energy. Have a long soak in the tub or indulge in a cup of your favorite hot drink.
  • If you are separated from family and friends or have suffered the loss of a loved one, acknowledge your feelings of grief and loss, and allow yourself to express these normal feelings.
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