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Before holiday stress leaves a big hole in family relationships, people should anticipate that stress and plan how reactions take shape, states experts from the University of Missouri Extension.

Before holiday stress leaves a big hole in family relationships, people should anticipate that stress and plan how reactions take shape, states experts from the University of Missouri Extension.

Too often, holiday stress is a gift that keeps on giving, said Jeremiah Terrell, a human development specialist from the extension. Stress comes in small packages that, like holiday bills, add up quickly and can last for a long time if you do not have a plan, states an extension release.

Conflicts exist even in the most congenial of families. It is not the conflict itself, but how you react that is important, said Terrell.

There are times when family members wound each other emotionally, intentionally or unintentionally, said Christina Edholm, another extension specialist. Tensions can mount and painful memories may resurface. Recognize these triggers, she said, and respond by stepping back for a moment.

Edholm calls it “giving grace.”

“Fill each other with gratitude, happiness and joy instead,” she said. “Be grateful for relationships and the bond that makes us family.”

Another tip is to have realistic expectations for gatherings.

“You may need to reset expectations,” said Terrell. One can do this by learning to accept family members as they are and set aside grievances for the day.

When things get tough, turn the conversation to a pleasant shared memory, states the extension release. If that fails, take a walk or engage in something to distract yourself.

"Plan how you will react if someone brings up controversial topics such as politics, money or religion. Graciously acknowledge good but misguided attentions, such as when Aunt Betty encourages that second piece of pie when you are trying to lose weight," states the release. "She just wants you to enjoy her holiday baking and perhaps hopes for a much-desired compliment."

The following is a list of continued tips from extension experts to help reduce stress this holiday season.

• Be realistic. This year does not have to be and probably won’t be like last year. Find new ways to celebrate. Use technology to share pictures, gift opening or baking.

• Communicate routines. If a guest in someone’s home for the holiday, ask about times for meals, waking and going to bed. If you have children with you, communicate to them the need to be respectful of others’ routines. Use this as an opportunity to discuss how families do things differently and that this is OK. In 2020, families who gather also must address health practices. Discuss these before guests arrive.

• Communicate traditions and create new memories. Discuss expectations for gift exchanges. Set monetary limits in advance so no one feels embarrassed or slighted. Know when and how you will open gifts – before the holiday meal or after. Will one person open all gifts before moving to the next or will everyone unwrap at the same time? Will you be expected to attend religious services and, if so, where and when?

• Show gratitude. Remember the little things you are grateful for to reduce stress. Terrell said gratitude affirms the good in lives and can be an antidote for stress.

“Traditions are the center of holiday celebrations,” said Edholm. “They center us. They balance us.”

However, change, experts said, is inevitable so people should try to incorporate memories of holiday traditions of loved ones who have passed with new activities.

Terrell and Edholm also suggest basics such as getting plenty of rest and sticking to healthy diet choices as much as possible.

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