LEWISTOWN - The week of Thanksgiving has arrived which is followed immediately by Black Friday and Cyber Monday, kicking off the official shopping chaos leading up to Christmas.
Then there are the constant gatherings throughout the month of December with all the planes, trains and automobiles necessary to get there.
Finally, the season ends with the actual day of Christmas and then New Year's Eve, complete with excessive gift giving and decorative trimmings.
Sum all that up and it certainly makes sense that people are more stressed around the holiday season, said Sally Best, licensed professional counselor with Breakwater Counseling Services, in State College. The main factors that contribute to holiday stress are the expectations people place on themselves and others, she said.
"People are stressed about a range of things from perfect presentation of a holiday meal, to the perfect gift at the perfect price, to attending functions, to accommodating relatives and the list goes on," Best said. "We take on too much, then we cope with it the best way we know how in the moment, which is not always the most beneficial way."
The best way to survive the season, with your sanity in tact, is to make a list of priorities to guide holiday decisions, Best said. The list should include things you can look back on, after the holidays, and be glad you participated, she added.
"What do you want your holiday to really be about: Is it family? Is it charitable service to others? Is it involvement with religious observations? Is it the fun and frivolity," Best asked. "Once priorities are established, it's helpful to select a number and scope of activities that will serve those purposes."
It's also important to leave a few days on the calendar blank for relaxing and recharging, Best said. Know what works for you, whether it's spending time with the kids, watching a movie or enjoying a massage, and be a little selfish about preserving that, she added.
One of the biggest stress contributers during the holiday season is money, said Shawn Wilson, owner of S.A. Wilson & Associates, LLC, a financial advising firm in Lewistown. Without a savings plan and holiday budget, spending can get out of control quickly leading to large January bills, Wilson said.
"We live in a world of non-stop go go go and unfortunately we fail to set spending habits," Wilson said. "When you combine millions of Americans who do not budget or plan in advance we have a hysteria take hold around the holiday season."
Creating a holiday specific budget provides spending limits for each aspect of the season and eliminates the stress of possibly over-spending, Wilson said. Another good idea is to add a Christmas savings category to the regular monthly budget throughout the year, he added.
"Putting $25 a week into a Christmas envelope at home is wise and by June you could have $600 saved," Wilson said. "When new products hit the shelves and the summer deals get under way, you will have the cash to make those advanced purchases."
Another way to monitor Christmas spending is to only buy presents for those closest to you, Wilson said. Set an amount for each person that you are willing to spend and make sure to follow it. When shopping, make sure to save receipts for return just in case you find a better deal, he added.
Wilson also advised people to avoid the temptations of Black Friday as significant deals are slim and products tend to have poor retail selling history. An exception can be made, however, if you frequent the store often and know regular product price and quality, he said.
"When you plan accordingly, and take the time to execute your holiday shopping within your budget, you will feel so rewarded," Wilson said. "When January comes, you know you did your best and the anxiety you may have felt in the past over bills will not be there."
According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the busiest travel time of the year is during the holiday season with a 54 percent increase in long distance travel around Thanksgiving and a 23 percent increase around Christmas and New Year's.
With the anticipated 3.1 million people traveling by plane, predicted by AAA, travelers need to be ready for the stress that goes along with a busy travel period. The best way to handle holiday travel is to stay calm and be prepared, said Bryan Rodgers, director of University Park Airport.
If traveling by plane, try to arrive at smaller airports at least an hour before departure and at least two hours before departure at larger airports, Rodgers said. Keep in mind, depending on airport size, security check-in could take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour, he added.
When packing luggage, travelers should double-check regular packing guidelines in addition to seasonal regulations in regard to gifts and food, Rodgers said. Make sure to read regulations for the specific airline as well as regulations listed on the TSA website. These preparations will keep security moving smoothly, he said.
"When it comes to bringing items through checkpoints, we've seen just about everything," Rodgers said. "Traveling with food or gifts is an even bigger challenge. While wrapped gifts are not prohibited... we recommend passengers wrap gifts after their flight or ship them ahead of time to avoid the possibility of having to open them during the screening process."
Once through the gates, the next worry is a delayed or canceled flight which can be weather related, Rodgers said. Again, the key is to stay calm and be prepared, he said.
If the flight is delayed keep a positive attitude, remain close to the departure kiosk, follow information given to you by the airlines such as leaving your name and cell phone number or point of contact, and, as a back-up plan, make transportation and lodging arrangements, Rodgers said.
If the flight is cancelled know your rights about flight cancellations and call the airline directly while waiting in line as seats will be limited on upcoming flights, Rodgers said. Also, make sure to seek compensation if you are bumped from an overbooked flight, he added.
Though spending time with family and friends is a priority during the holidays, those you love can often add a little stress to the guest list, Best said. It's important to take everything in stride and focus on making memories rather than a scene, she said.
"First of all, don't expect the party to be perfect," Best said. "There will always be something that doesn't go according to the dream of a Norman Rockwell holiday portrait. Be willing to adapt, to laugh about it if possible and to let it go."
If you are hosting the party, recognize that nobody can really do it all and do it well, Best said. Something usually gets sacrificed and that tends to be the enjoyment of the event. Try to delegate as much as possible in terms of preparation, cleanup or contributions, she said.
"Divide up the responsibilities and consider a pot-luck style event," Best said. "Designate set-up and clean up crews as well as kid-wranglers when getting the meal on the table. Also, decide what you are willing to use that's store-bought and consider festive paper plates for appetizers and desserts."
The good news is that some people enjoy hosting parties and are unruffled by hosting a family event while others can be gracious and appreciative guests, Best said. On the other hand, some people have unrealistic expectations and want to make sure everyone knows of their displeasure, she said.
"When dealing with a difficult relative, it's alright to remove yourself from conversations that get uncomfortable," Best said. "If you can't redirect with some holiday focus or activity, walk out of the room. This is an area in which practicing your responses to expected interactions will be helpful."
When organizing all the components that go into a traditional holiday party, don't forget to look for those truly special moments found in the midst of chaos, Best said.