Do you approach the holiday season with a Norman Rockwell vision that never seems to pan out? Aren’t holidays supposed to be a time for peace and joy? When did the Christmas season go from being a time of gratitude to a time of stress and dread?

Here are a few reasons why the holidays are stressful and how to cope.

Expectations

In the old days, Christmas meant that kids got a few pieces of candy in their stocking and maybe a single toy that they’d been wishing for. The focus was on a single day when family got together to feast on delicious food and enjoy each other’s company. But slowly, over generations, Christmas has become an unattainable, larger-than-life idea of excess consumerism and not a lot of quality bonding.

If you’re balking at the list of overpriced, cheaply constructed toys on the kids’ holiday list this year, thinking you’ll never be able to handle the explosion of holiday parties and all the obligatory shoulds that go along with them… then maybe it’s time to tone down your to-do list and instead focus on what really matters. Each other!

Guilt

Even if people still say “Money can’t buy happiness,” they still try like heck to make the opposite true, at Christmas time more than any other time of year. Probably the biggest reason why we try to outdo ourselves with gift-giving for our families each Christmas is that we’re trying to overcompensate for something that we can never get back: lost quality time.

This is the information age, a time when technology drives our every action, and it can make people bonkers not to mention take us away from what’s really important – being 100% present and available to the people who matter most, like our children and our partners.

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Somewhere, buried deep in our psyches, is this feeling of perpetual guilt at all we aren’t able to give to those who mean most, because we’re busy, distracted, grumpy and trying to be everything to everyone all the time. So to make up for this, we search for the ultimate retail Christmas gifts for family. And actually, if we just did the opposite, which is lower our expectations to something reasonable, a Christmas miracle might actually occur. We’d get what we really want for Christmas: quality time and connection.

Over-indulgence

December is a month-long celebration, with one party after another. Drinks flow, rich and fattening food is plentiful, and we find ourselves engaging in the act of Christmas cookie cramming just to get rid of the stressed-out, crappy feeling that’s leftover from trying to herd the entire family into the mom-van and battling holiday traffic in lousy weather so we could show up in our holiday-best for yet another merry mixer.

You may wonder how to possibly avoid over-eating, drinking too much, partaking in too many sweets, and generally feeling the after-effects of the constant sugar high and crash that is the entire month of December. The key is in the planning.

Having a stockpile of healthy snacks on hand will keep you from careening into the DD drive through after a frustrating and draining retail shopping experience. Think trail mix with nuts and dried fruits, a bag with sliced apples and chunks of cheese. If you plan to hit the road with the kids in tow, pack a family food bag with healthy foods so you won’t skip lunch and then make a bad choice later.

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