Stress and Holiday Shopping

holiday shopping and stressGiven our already hectic lives, the onslaught of pressures triggered by holiday shopping brings an inordinate amount of stress to many.  It seems that there is no way out. If you go to stores and malls, often in cold or stormy weather, you face parking difficulties, crowds, lack of trained sales staff, and overstimulation with overflowing shelves and aisles.  After the shopping, you face storing, wrapping, mailing or delivering the gifts. If you shop online, you may get lost on the Internet or waste time comparing prices for hours, only to save a few cents.

In either case, you don’t want to be impulsive and overspend, get overtired, or forget about regular, healthy activities like exercising and sensible eating.  In addition, you still have to tend to all your other life chores: work, home, caregiving, and remembering anniversaries, graduations, and birthdays.

We can’t avoid all holiday stress, but we can manage it more effectively. First, know that the holiday season (and shopping) has a prescribed ending. Second, remember the potential of the season to provide fun and memorable times. Third, help the stress melt away by allowing time to breathe, relax, and enjoy time with family and friends.

Here are 10 tips on how to prepare and take action for those moments when holiday shopping triggers the Stress Demon:

  1. Estimate the total amount of money you can afford to spend for holiday gift giving. Then decide the amount available for each person’s gift or gifts. Rather than facing the lure of overspending with a credit card, use cash. For example, put money for each person’s gift or gifts in separate envelopes. Brainstorm possible gifts on the outside of envelope. This helps you shop more efficiently—and not overspend.
  2. Identify one or two areas in which your unplanned or excessive holiday spending gets you in trouble. For some, it’s overspending on presents, for others it’s all of the expensive mall or restaurant meals during multiple shopping trips. Still others can’t resist treating themselves instead of others, especially when faced with seemingly huge discounts on gadgets, appliances, accessories, or sports equipment. Have a motto that you repeat whenever you face that urge to splurge on unnecessary items. For example, say, “This season, I’m focusing on gifts for the children in the family.”
  3. Keep track of your spending. Throw the receipts in an envelope or box and tally each day or week. It is easier to stick to your budget when you have a clear picture of the damage you’re doing to your pocketbook or wallet.
  4. Plan ahead to make shopping a positive experience. If you can, schedule your shopping trips earlier in the fall, perhaps going to a discount mall. Ask others for their holiday wish list, with the understanding that there is no guarantee that all wishes are granted. The list may at least point you in the right gift-giving direction and help you avoid a last minute frenzy of just grabbing something, anything (often the only item in the mall that is not on sale!).
  5. Remember that you’re going to make it through the holiday season in much better shape when you stick to healthy sleep routines, exercise, and other tried-and-true stress management strategies.
  6. Revise your all-or-none, now-or-never shopping treks. Schedule time to shop when you’re rested and alert; when you’re exhausted, you’re less inclined to do comparison-shopping and stick to your budget. Be realistic about shopping excursions: ask, “For how many hours can I reasonably be out, efficient, and pleasant?” Include time for breaks when you are shopping. Getting things done— only to be a grouch—destroys the holiday cheer.
  7. If you just can’t stand stores, malls, or crowds under any circumstances, do your shopping online—but stick to your budget and goals. Take advantage of free shipping offered online. Designate one credit card and a separate email account for your online purchases. This makes it easier to trace problems and ensure privacy.
  8. Many of the most thoughtful gifts can also be very budget-friendly. Consider homemade gifts of foods or crafts. Nothing beats cookies, breads, or jams. Alternatively, consider a coupon for special events or services. For example, “This coupon entitles you to dinner and a movie once a month.” “The bearer of this coupon is entitled to breakfast in bed.” Another all-time favorite gift to make is the photo collage of family or friends.
  9. Give the Salvation Army and other resale shops a visit. Sometimes you can find wonderful cups, vases, or boxes to fill with gifts for people who you want to remember in a small way. For example, look for holiday mugs and fill them with candy or pencils. Often, remembering someone with a small gift has a larger impact than you imagine.
  10. Write letters of gratitude to those who are near and dear or who have made a positive impact upon your life in the last year. Your sincerity and warmth is the greatest gift anyone can receive.

You may have noticed (perhaps to your annoyance) that some people actually enjoy holiday shopping, and find it exhilarating rather than stressful. While you may never appreciate the hustle and bustle as much as they do, you can adopt their perspective on the process: they focus on the joy of having special people in their lives to recognize and appreciate. They are not on a quest for the “perfect” gift, but for the most fitting gift, whether it is small, humorous, or particularly well timed. Thinking of others and the way their faces light up when they receive a great gift may just be enough to chase the Stress Demon away from holiday shopping.

About Geraldine Markel, Ph.D.

Geraldine Markel, Ph.D. is principal of Managing Your Mind Coaching and Seminars and is author of Defeating the 8 Demons of Distraction: Increasing Productivity and Decreasing Stress. She is co author of Finding Your Focus: Practical Strategies for the Everyday Challenges Facing Adults with ADD and Helping Adolescents with ADD and/or Learning Disabilities. At the University of Michigan, Dr. Markel served as faculty in the School of Education. She coaches adults and adolescents with ADD and/or learning disabilities and specializes in working with independent professionals, writers, and graduate students.
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