JMU expert offers tips for navigating the holidays

HARRISONBURG, Va. — There are lots of good times to look forward to as the holidays approach, but the season can also bring some unwanted stress. Whether it be the pressure of planning events or anxiety over family gatherings, stress triggers abound.  

Jaime Kurtz, a professor of psychology at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, can discuss strategies for avoiding or reducing holiday tension. Happiness, savoring and decision making are among Kurtz’s research interests, and she even looks at how people in other countries view happiness compared to Americans.  

Kurtz has authored more than 30 books and papers on the subject of happiness, including, “The Happy Traveler: Unpacking the Secrets of Better Vacations.”  

A few suggestions Kurtz can pass along to ease holiday stress include:

  • Don’t procrastinate. Spread out your shopping and other holiday prep so you’re not overwhelmed and battling crowds at the last minute. 
  • Anticipate likely challenges. Is there a particular relative you always butt heads with? A person who is especially hard to shop for? Travel headaches that leave you exhausted? You can strategize on how to manage these challenges ahead of time. 
  • Consider what research says about gift giving: give gifts that connect you with your loved ones (such as a spa day together), gifts that save time for busy people (a meal delivery service), an experiential gift (movie tickets or a hot air balloon ride) or gifts that somehow really say, “I understand you.” 
  •  Most of all, just take the pressure off of yourself. The more you try to craft a perfect holiday, the more stressed, less present, less connected, and less happy you will be! 
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