6 Ways to Conquer the Inner Grinch This Holiday Season

inner grinch.jpgIf you struggle during the holidays, you’re not alone. Try these strategies to make your holiday season a little easier.

Tears streamed down my face as I scooped cookie dough into perfectly shaped balls to roll in sugar. In the background, The Most Wonderful Time of the Year played and all I could think was, “This doesn’t feel like the most wonderful time of the year. I feel like I’m ruining the magic.”

For days my kids had been begging me to make cookies. I finally decided that we could make cookies for Santa now, on December 1st, and freeze the cookie dough to simplify activities and save time when Christmas Eve came. While making the dough, my 6-year-old daughter dropped the measuring spoon in the mixing bowl while it was mixing. Dough splattered everywhere—our hair, our clothes, all over the counter, the ceiling was spotted, and even a closet door in the family room 15 feet away was dotted. I should have found it hilarious (it is now that I write about it…), but it was an added straw to the stress of the day, and I was frustrated.

As my daughter happily licked the dough off the mixing arm, I scooped and molded the dough, listening to the music on the bluetooth speaker and cried. The expectations for magic in the season weighed on me. Instead of feeling like a happy Christmas Elf, I was feeling like a rotten inner Grinch.

I love what most of the holiday season brings and represents, and yet I still feel discouraged at times. I know I’m not alone in feeling overwhelmed by holiday happenings. Studies show that anywhere from 45-69 percent of us are overwhelmed and stressed by one or more aspect of the season. It can come in the form of stress, anxiety, or seasonal depression. Among those who don’t view themselves as being stressed or anxious, it can be displayed through stress responses such as headaches and illness, excessive eating or drinking, or insomnia. Many parts of the season contribute to these feelings, including financial stress, relationship stress, and exhaustion from expectations for gifts and parties.

I am a mother of four children who are excited and anxiously awaiting the magic of the season. Their constant excitement, questions, and desire to do everything can weigh on me like it did while making cookies. The following techniques have helped me over the last few years to bring balance to the demands and expectations I feel, and can help us all to bring out the inner Christmas Elf.


1. Be realistic. Make a list of what is most important to you and your family. If needed, choose the top most important activities only and focus on those so you are not overburdened.

2. Spread out the fun. The holiday season is just that – a season. Not everything needs to take place on Christmas Eve or while the children are out of school. Spread out the activities – from making cookies to enjoying your favorite holiday lights – from Thanksgiving weekend to New Year’s Day. If it helps, write things on a calendar the whole family can see so they know when to expect that activity. Be flexible when needed.

3. Simplify. Not all activities need to cost money in order to create memories. Not every activity needs to be “Pinterest” perfect. Remember to soak in the energy of the moments—take photos to remember. Don’t over commit yourself. It seems to happen that multiple events or parties are scheduled the same evening. Choose one to enjoy thoroughly and don’t stress about trying to leave one early to get to the next late. Let go of a tradition or activity this year if it is too much—plan it for next year if it is something you missed.

4. Prepare early. Set a budget months in advance (if you didn’t this year, start planning for next year in January). Shop for gifts early and keep track of the gifts you purchased through the year to stay within your budget. Use calendars and reminders to prepare for activities in advance. If it’s too late, or a last minute event, then simplify as you can.

5. Take care of yourself. It can be easy to focus on everyone else this time of year, but remember your health. Eat well. Sleep. Exercise. These healthy habits will help keep your immunity up and can help keep you feeling refreshed and less stressed.

6. Forgive yourself. Be kind to yourself. When you’ve done all you can, stress still happens. Practice talking to yourself kindly and forgiving when you feel unmotivated or frustrated. Be mindful and acknowledge your feelings, write about it or talk about it, and then let it go as you forgive and move forward.

This article was contributed by Melanie Jewkes, USU Extension associate professor.

Tips for Surviving Thanksgiving with the Family

surviving thanksgiving logo.jpgIt’s that time of year when family members travel from far and wide to gather, give thanks and eat a large meal together. Thanksgiving can be a wonderful time filled with traditions, famous family recipes and catching up with each other’s lives. However, some view Thanksgiving with concern about how everyone will get along.


Here are some do’s and don’ts to help your family have a better chance for a peaceful, enjoyable Thanksgiving this year.


What Not to Do


  • Don’t talk politics or bring up other “hot topics.” Often the urge is to help family members “really understand” your position or understand why their position is irrational and wrong. Too often, this ends with slamming doors and someone crying in another room or the car.


  • Don’t be sarcastic, critical or give subtle jabs. These can cause emotions to escalate quickly, and feelings can get hurt.


  • Don’t try to fix each other’s problems over one meal. Also, don’t discuss the problems of other family members who aren’t there. The Thanksgiving meal is not the time to suggest someone get out of a relationship, sell a house, be a better parent or start exercising.


  • Don’t take things personally. Some family members are more “prickly” than others, but choose not to get defensive. If someone does start fishing for a reaction, don’t take the hook.


What to Do


  • Take charge of seating. Set the table for success by separating conflicting personalities. Set the conspirators near you so you can put out fires and guide the conversation.


  • Remind yourself why you are doing it. You love your family (most of them?), and ultimately, people are more important than problems.


  • Ask others about their lives. Don’t talk about yourself the entire time.


  • Give kids responsibilities, but then turn them loose. Kids simply aren’t going to enjoy being trapped at a table for long periods of time. They get restless and whiny. It’s okay if they run off after trying most of the foods. Don’t turn it into a battle. Have something for them to do after the meal.


This article was written by David Schramm, Utah State University Extension family life specialist, david.schramm@usu.edu

Resetting Your Holiday Expectations

holiday expectations square.jpg

We’re well into December, and holiday stress is mounting. Take a moment to reset your expectations for a happier holiday season.

While the holidays are still magical for children and some truly embrace the spirit of the season, most people find the holiday season just adds stress to their already busy life routine. Common concerns include worry about paying for gifts, finding time for all the extra festive activities, and for some, just trying to seem happy for the next month or two when they really just feel overwhelmed and tired. If that is how you feel, just know that you are not a Scrooge. In fact, you are very normal and very much in the majority. In fact, research suggests that the pressure to be happy can actually lead to sadness and even depression during the holidays.

With this in mind, take the time to reset the holiday expectations meter for yourself and your family. Consider these seven tips to creating a happier holiday.


  1. Don’t idealize the holidays. Real life is not a Norman Rockwell painting. The more you try to live up to that kind of expectation, the more frustrated, disappointed and unhappy you are likely to be with yourself and others.
  2. Accept people for who they are. Before being with family and friends this season, take a few moments and acknowledge what you wish they were like and how you would like them to act. Now, let that image go. Expecting others to be anything but themselves is unrealistic and will mostly likely increase stress.
  3. Recreate traditions. Traditions are wonderful ways to create memories and bring families close together, but traditions also often need to change over time. Take time to discuss your favorite traditions, and then plan only those traditions that best fit your current life circumstances and bring you joy.
  4. Set boundaries. Decide as a family how you will spend your time and money this holiday season. Don’t forget to schedule in some “down time” so you don’t get overburdened with activities. Once limits have been set, you might discover that holiday activities and time with extended family become much more enjoyable.
  5. Take care of yourself. It’s easy to get out of the habit of exercising, eating healthy and getting enough sleep during the holiday season. Don’t take the season off from your workout routine during the holidays. Going to the gym regularly not only helps you burn the excess calories you consume from holiday feasting, it’s also a great way to relieve stress and improve self-esteem. Activities involving the whole family can also be a great tradition. In addition to exercise, be sure to take time to relax and rejuvenate so you can stay healthy and keep your spirits high.
  6. Focus on the moment. Even after setting boundaries, it can be easy to get overwhelmed.  Slow down and enjoy where you are in that moment. If you feel tense, take a deep breath and take in what you are experiencing with all of your senses. Take a mental snapshot to create memories for the future. Remember, even the frustrating moments might make you laugh in the future.
  7. Take time to reflect and focus on the positive. Take some time to think about all of the positive things that have happened in the past year. Reflect on accomplishments, goals you or your family members have achieved or positive changes that have been made – no matter how small. Capture some of these reflections in a journal so you can remember them for years to come. If you want to go above and beyond (no pressure!), send a brief email or letter to share your reflections with loved ones.

This article was written by Naomi Brower, Utah State University Extension professor


Tips to De-Stress Your Holiday Season

De Stress Your Holiday.jpgThe finish line is in sight— Christmas is almost here. Don’t let the stress of the holidays get you down. Try these tips to manage your stress, and better enjoy the holiday season.

Perhaps it’s the first time you hear “Jingle Bells” on the radio or see Christmas lights go up on a neighbor’s house.  Whatever the moment may be, you have the realization that the holiday season is in full swing.  You may experience childlike feelings of excitement that accompany the season, but at the same time, a very adult feeling may sneak up on you — stress.

Counting down the days left to shop, making travel plans and organizing family get togethers can leave you feeling frazzled and overwhelmed, rather than full of holiday cheer.  The holiday season brings many responsibilities, and even the fun activities can leave you feeling tired and stressed.  According to the American Psychological Association, the main sources of holiday stress are related to relationships, finances, and physical demands.  By following a few practical tips, you can reduce and manage the stress that accompanies the holiday season.

Relationships can create stress at any time, but tensions and conflicts are often intensified during the holiday season when increased demands are placed on family members.  On the other hand, facing the holidays without a loved one can create feelings of sadness and loneliness.

  • Take time for yourself.  Spend 15 minutes alone to refresh and clear your mind.
  • Have realistic expectations.  Families change and grow, so traditions and rituals may change as well.  Hold on to the most special traditions, and be open to creating new ones.
  • Reach out to others.  Community agencies and social events offer support and companionship for those who may feel lonely and isolated during the holiday season.  Volunteering and helping others can lift your spirits and put your family life into perspective.
  • Make time for fun.  

Financial issues often arise during the holiday season, leading to undesirable stress.  Gifts, travel, food and entertainment expenses add up quickly and can lead to unexpected debt.

  • Stick to a budget. Consider how much you want to spend in total for the season, and set a spending limit.  Keep track of how much you spend on the holidays, including decorations, travel, holiday entertainment and meals, and cards and postage.
  • Plan ahead. Before shopping, look through newspaper ads and store circulars to find which stores are running specials and where the prices are lowest.  Comparison shop on the Internet to find out which stores carry the items you want at the best price.
  • Make homemade gifts or give gift certificates for your time and talents.

Physical demands of the holiday season can initiate or increase stress.  Shopping for gifts, attending social gatherings, and preparing holiday meals can be exhausting.

  • Know your limits.  Give yourself permission to say no to extra holiday activities.
  • Don’t abandon healthy habits.  Continue to get plenty of sleep and stay physically active.  Avoid overindulging at holiday meals by preparing a healthy snack ahead of time.

The holiday season can be stressful and overwhelming, but taking small steps to combat the stress can help you to relax and enjoy the season.  


This article was written by Shannon Cromwell, M.A., Extension Assistant Professor, Family & Consumer Sciences, Utah State University Extension, Sanpete County, 435-283-3472, shannon.cromwell@usu.edu


The American Psychological Association.  www.apa.org

Ten Tips for Stress Management


It’s the most wonderful time of the year, but it can also be a stressful time. Try some of these strategies to manage your stress, no matter the time of year.

Despite our best efforts to reduce the stress in our lives, it is unrealistic to think we will completely eliminate it. Therefore, it is critical for our health and well-being to find ways to manage the stress that infiltrates our lives.

In order to effectively manage stress, it is important to first know where it is coming from. Take time to pinpoint the areas of your life that seem to be stress factors. Once you know where the stress is coming from, it is easier to manage.

The number one symptom of stress is muscle tension. Stretching and exercising will help flush the stress hormones out of your body. Exercise releases the happy, positive chemicals that can help fight illness and depression naturally. Mediation and relaxation exercises are simple to perform and combine deep breathing, releasing of muscle tension and clearing of negative thoughts. If you practice these exercises regularly, you can use them when needed to lessen the negative effects of stress. Good nutrition and proper sleep will also aid in stress management. If you are not sleeping well, you will have less energy and fewer resources for coping with stress.

So what are some other stress buster activities?

  1. Breathe. Breathing deeply sends a message to our bodies to relax.
  2. Visualize calm. You’ve probably heard this before, but going to a happy place in your mind (I enjoy thinking of past vacation spots) can help you relax. For example, try feeling the sand in your toes and remembering what the ocean smells like. (This is especially helpful in calming my mind so I can sleep.)
  3. Take a time out. Spend time doing something you love. It doesn’t have to be for hours, and it won’t make your problems go away, but just reading a book or looking through old pictures for 10 minutes can help energize you to take on the next challenge.
  4. Just say no. We don’t have to do everything. Enough said.
  5. Laugh! Learning to laugh at ourselves and seeing the humor in any situation can reduce stress. Take a break and watch a funny YouTube clip and just laugh for a minute.
  6. Talk or write it out. Sometimes it’s nice just to get those stressful feelings out. Talk to someone you trust who is no t involved in the stressful situation or write out your feelings. (You can even burn it after if you want.) Writing in a personal journal can be a great stress reliever, and it can provide something great to share with others.
  7. Get pampered. Once in a while, it’s okay to do something you wouldn’t normally do just because you are a wonderful person and you deserve it. For example, get a massage, buy yourself a small treat or stop just to smell the roses or enjoy the sunset.
  8. Seek social support. This is the single most important buffer against stress. It is important to share problems and seek advice from people you trust.
  9. Enjoy leisure activities. Research suggests that leisure activities can be an effective way to ward off the negative effects of stress. Hobbies and other fun activities provide a meaningful way to sharpen skills, express creativity or just blow off steam.
    • Drawing can get you in touch with your artistic side and be useful as a way to process emotions or distract yourself. The end result will be something beautiful and personal that you can enjoy or share. Painting has similar stress management benefits as drawing but through a different medium. Coloring is the new adult stress management tool. There are many online tools and even adult coloring books available.
    • Gardening can be a great stress reliever as you are out in the sunshine, fresh air and have the satisfaction of sprucing up your home!
    • The repetitive motion required for knitting and crocheting can provide an outlet for nervous energy while creating beautiful gifts for yourself or others.
    • Photography can be a great hobby to help you see things differently as you look through the lens. You have a hobby to call your own, and you see the world as a more beautiful place in your daily life.
  10. Make the choice. Look for the good things in your day instead of the negatives. Positive thinking is a choice. You’ll begin to notice “gifts” that you previously took for granted. The frazzled mentality will disappear, and you will become less stressed. A positive attitude can’t change a negative situation into a positive one, but it can help you enjoy the ride a lot more.

This article was written by Cindy Nelson, Utah State University Extension assistant professor


Stress Busters // Finding Relief From Holiday Stress

holiday-stress-reliefAccording to the National Headache Foundation, people complain of a greater incidence of tension-type headaches and migraines between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Family stress, long lines and altered sleep and eating patterns play a key role. Consider these tips to reduce stress and tension this holiday season.

  • Exercise regularly. This helps you relax and let off steam. Also watch what you eat.
  • Try relaxation and stretching exercises such as neck rolls and slow, deep breathes to reduce muscle tension and headaches.
  • If an especially unpleasant task faces you, do it early in the day and get it over with. The rest of your day will be free of anxiety.
  • Learn to delegate responsibility to others.
  • Forget about counting to 10. Count to 100 before doing or saying anything that could make matters worse.
  • Have a forgiving view of events and people. Accept the fact that we live in an imperfect world.
  • Get involved with other people. Do something for somebody. Do something with somebody.
  • Say “no” more often. It’s amazing how much stress can be eliminated by giving up unrewarding activities, refusing inappropriate requests and turning down invitations from people you don’t enjoy.
  • Find humor in every disaster. You can usually find something funny if you look for it. No disaster is so bad that it couldn’t be worse.
  • De-clutter your life. Get rid of clothes you never wear, objects that collect dust, furniture you hate and activities you don’t enjoy.
  • Make friends with non-worriers. Nothing can get you into the habit of worrying faster than associating with chronic worrywarts.
  • Create order out of chaos. Organize your home and workspace so that you always know exactly where things are. Have a place for everything and everything in its place.
  • Become more flexible. Some things are worth not doing perfectly, and compromise can be found on some issues. Ask yourself if it will matter in five years.
  • Eliminate destructive self-talk such as, “I’m too old…, I’m too fat…”
  • Shun the superman/superwoman urge. Be realistic. Set practical goals and simplify.
  • Take a break. A change of pace, no matter how short, can give you a new outlook on old problems.
  • When a problem is beyond your control, learn to recognize and accept it.
  • Get up 15 minutes earlier. The inevitable morning mishaps will be less stressful.
  • Don’t rely on your memory. Write down appointment times, when to pick up your prescription, when projects are due, etc.  An old Chinese proverb states, “The palest ink is better than the most retentive memory.”
  • Procrastination is stressful. Whatever you want to do tomorrow, do today; whatever you want to do today, do it now.
  • Plan ahead. Don’t let the gas tank get below one-quarter full. Keep a well-stocked shelf of home staples. Don’t wait until you’re down to your last cup of flour to buy more.
  • Don’t put up with something that doesn’t work right. If such things as your alarm clock, wallet, shoelaces or toaster are a constant aggravation, get them fixed or get new ones.
  • Be ready to wait. Reading a chapter of an e-book on your phone or keeping in touch on social media can make time spent standing in line or sitting in a waiting room almost pleasant. Everything takes a little longer than you expect, even if you already expect it to take longer.
  • Count your blessings. For every one thing that goes wrong, there are probably 10 or 50 or 100 blessings and things that go right. Count them!


By Margie Memmott, USU Extension associate professor, 435-623-3451, margie.memmott@usu.edu