‘Tis the season for serious stress. And what is it exactly that causes the most stress during the holidays? According to a recent poll by the American Psychological Association (APA), money issues were the top vote getter. The holidays mean big, elaborate meals, entertaining and traveling all of which can leave a rather nasty dent in your pocketbook; but then comes the whole giant, shiny, bow-bedecked issue of gift giving. Most of us have been raised with the mantra that it’s better to give than to receive, but how great is gift-giving really if it leads to bankruptcy and stress-induced ill health? Well, just in the St. Nick of time, your IE Weekly has some tips on how to give into the holiday spirit without having to spiral out of financial control.
Never mind annoying relatives, according to the APA survey, a whopping 61-percent of Americans listed lack of money as the top cause of their holiday stress. This choice was followed by the pressures of gift-giving, lack of time and credit card debt—two of which are basically just derivatives of lack of money. One in five of these survey participants also worried that accumulated holiday stress could affect their physical health and 36-percent said they either eat or drink alcohol to cope with holiday stress. A gazillion studies have found that excessive stress can contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, lowered immunity, sexual dysfunction, weight gain and o’ so much more.
But this isn’t a reason to turn into the Inland Empire Ebenezer Scrooge. The act of giving a gift also has the positive effect of increasing the bond between you and the person to whom you have given that gift and generally increases your feelings of competence and self-worth. The new book Altruism and Health: Perspectives from Empirical Research (Oxford University Press, 2007), edited by Stephen G. Post, Ph.D., brings together research in biology, psychiatry, psychology, gerontology, epidemiology and public health to show that unselfish, giving individuals find life to be more meaningful, are usually happier than their selfish counterparts and will often experience better mental health. Some of this research also finds that giving individuals have reduced mortality rates and better physical health.
Lucky for you, finding the right gifts for your friends and loved ones doesn’t have to break the bank. First, sit down and set clear boundaries on how much cash you can shell out this holiday season without stressing yourself out. Then consider giving alternative, more personalized gifts. Infused vinegars or oils in funky glass bottles, soaps with silly plastic objects embedded in them, jars filled with all the dry ingredients to make an awesome baked good, scrapbooks, music compilations, weird plants in unusual pots, candles and hand-decorated picture frames or light-switch covers are all gifts that are cheap and easy to make at home. Give a gift that connects to who you are—if you’re a writer, give books; an actor, give DVDs; an environmentalist, give canvas bags, etc. Since lack of time is also such a stressor for people over the holidays, you can also give the gift of babysitting, doing chores, running errands, etc.
In addition, consider the personal benefit of giving to those in need. Pick your favorite charity and donate a small sum—any amount will be greatly appreciated. No extra money? Volunteer your time at a local animal shelter or nursing home, or give to the blood bank.
Nowadays many of us could do with a little less stuff anyway, but would truly benefit from a little more love. And there’s a gift that’s absolutely free.