Stress Relief: Beating Holiday Stress (cont.)

Stress Master: Eric Brown, spokesman for the Center for a New American Dream, a Maryland-based, nonprofit organization urging Americans to shift their consumption to improve quality of life and the environment.

Strategy: Learn how to have more fun with less stuff! (A 1998 poll commissioned by the center and conducted by EDK Associates of New York found that 44% of Americans feel pressure to spend more than they can afford at holiday time, and only 28% report the holidays leave them feeling "joyful.")

  • Tip 1. Give the gifts money can't buy. By getting creative, you can avoid the stresses of traffic, crowded department stores -- and that lingering dissatisfaction that you spend a small fortune on generic gifts. Four out of five people say they would prefer a photo album filled with childhood memories to a store-bought gift. "My 65-year-old mother has all the stuff she needs, so I gave a donation in her honor to the county food bank,'' says Brown. "People increasingly are finding new ways to think outside the box -- to give gifts that show the relationship between the giver and the recipient.'' Other ideas: Adopt a koala bear in a child's name at the local zoo. Create an audio or video of a family elder reminiscing for their children and grandchildren. Illustrate and write a homemade story featuring your child as the main character. Make coupons redeemable for backrubs or homemade brownies. Or write to celebrities, asking for an autograph dedicated to the recipient.
  • Tip 2. Lick overspending. It takes an average of four months for a credit card user to pay off stress-inducing holiday bills, according to a 1999 report by the American Bankers Association. Instead try this: Decide how much you can afford to spend for each person on your list, then put that amount in cash in an envelope with that person's name on it. When the envelope is empty, you're done - no exceptions. Or freeze your credit cards in a jug of water, or mail them to a friend until the holidays are history. "The more you can inject a sense of humor and make it a game, the easier it'll be to live within your means,'' Brown says.
  • Tip 3. Follow your holiday bliss. "My wife and daughter and I actually prefer to just go away,'' Brown says. "We rent a cabin for Christmas Eve, Christmas, and the day after. It forces us leave all the distractions behind and just enjoy being together. We get in touch with what the holidays are all about.''

Originally published October 2001.

Medically updated Oct. 11, 2004.

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