COLUMBIA, Mo. – It’s the most wonderful time of the year, or so they say. Picture-perfect families with perfectly coiffed hair and pearly white smiles appear in matching holiday attire in countless holiday television commercials. Perfectly wrapped gifts wait under perfectly decorated trees. How merry and bright!

And then there’s the rest of us, says Jeremiah Terrell, a University of Missouri Extension human development and family science specialist.

If you’re feeling the pressure of the holiday season, you’re not alone, says Terrell. Give yourself the gift of relaxing and setting aside some expectations, he says. Children and other family members aren’t looking for that picture postcard scene, which usually involved a great deal of stressful preparation.

Holidays often push us to do too much and spend more than we can afford. Family dynamics also can add fuel to the fire. This can bring on additional stress that can make holiday memories ho, ho, ho-rrible. Set aside differences for the day, Terrell says.

Stress can also keep you from taking proper care of yourself. Get plenty of sleep and eat well-balanced meals to stay in shape physically and mentally during the holidays.

Terrell offers some suggestions to lighten the load during the holidays:

• Accept that the only thing you can control is you. But how you conduct yourself will influence others.

• Plan. Set aside time for baking, shopping, cleaning and social events. And, if possible, break big tasks down into smaller ones.

• Control spending by setting budgets. Prepare lists. Avoid the temptation to go off-list. Remember that every gift does not have to have a dollar amount attached to it.

• Similarly, gain control by setting guidelines on social events. Determine ahead of time where you will go and for how long. Learn to say no. This is especially important if you are traveling.

• Simplify gift-giving and food preparation. Lower expectations and cross a few “shoulds” off your lists. Let go of some time-consuming holiday traditions.

Finally, seek professional help when stress mounts, Terrell says. MU Extension offers several resources to help.

Through a USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant, MU Extension provides stress assistance and suicide prevention services for farmers, ranchers, other agricultural workers, youths and farm families. Through the North Central Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network, Missourians experiencing stress can access the free Iowa Concern Hotline at 800-447-1985 or

Related MU Extension programs:

• Taking Care of You,

• Show-Me Strong Farm Families,