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Source: Tony Jurich, 532-1448,
News release prepared by: Jessica Grant, 785-532-6415,

Thursday, Nov. 29, 2007 


MANHATTAN -- Holiday stress is typically caused by high or unrealistic expectations, according to a Kansas State University expert on family relationships.

"People often feel that they have to match or surpass the holiday experiences of previous years; if we don't meet those expectations, we feel like failures," said Tony Jurich, K-State professor of family studies and human services.

When trying to meet the expectations of making it a perfect holiday or trying to re-create positive holiday memories, we often end up losing some of the holiday enjoyment, he said.

"It's like what Ralphie says in 'A Christmas Story' when he finally gets the Red Rider BB gun. He says, 'It's the best present ever and the best present I'll ever get,'" Jurich said. "Sometimes people have moments like this and they think, 'this was the best moment ever and I'm going to try to duplicate it every year,' but some experiences cannot be duplicated."

If people plan to meet these unreal expectations and are unable to, then they see themselves as being a failure, Jurich said.

"In the first case -- where people are trying to meet these unreal expectations -- you get a lot of people with holiday stress and you can tell it's building up," Jurich said. "Maybe someone will say 'let's try this' or 'this sounds like fun,' but for the person planning the holiday events it seems like another burden thrown on their back and they get even more stressed out."

Usually, the easiest way to cut some of this holiday stress is to simplify, Jurich said.

"First, you need to look at your expectations and ask if they reasonable expectations; are they even your expectations?" Jurich said. "Instead of trying to do 15 different things and having them not turn out well, you may want to just focus on two or three things that you can accomplish well."

Instead of trying to keep up grandma's or mom's holiday traditions, people should try to create new holiday traditions that work with current circumstances, he said.

"This is hard to do because sometimes it may sound like you're being disloyal to family members," Jurich said. "You may want to include aspects of previous rituals, but without having that ritual dominate or without feeling like the holiday would be ruined if you don't do things exactly as you had in the past."

If you want to alter a family tradition but you aren't sure how it will go over with the rest of the relatives, it's always best to communicate with family before the holiday, Jurich said. Or, if a relative does something that makes you uncomfortable, then it's best to broach the subject ahead of time. This approach will save you stress and prepare the other family members for any changes, he said.

"Let people know ahead of time. If you leave something in the ethereal mist of holidaydom and you're not sure how people will react to a change, then you are left absorbing anxiety about whether or not things will go over well," Jurich said. "Or, in the case of someone doing something that makes people uncomfortable, go to the person and address the problem. Work with them on something that will work for both people. Find a compromise."

When it comes to the holidays, everyone has certain expectations, Jurich said. However, some people may not have the same feelings that you expect.

Sometimes people have horrible memories associated with a holiday; if that's the case, it may be best to try to reclaim the holiday, Jurich said.

"When people have had negative experiences that they associate with a holiday, they can feel like an outsider looking in when they witness other people getting excited for the holiday," he said.

Doing something to create a different, positive memory can be therapeutic and enough to help a person reclaim the holiday, Jurich said.