How to survive and thrive during the holidays

A crowded shopping mall during the holiday season

The holiday season is a time for joy, but finding the perfect gift can cause anxiety 

For most people, Thanksgiving signals the start of the holiday season. But for serious shoppers it’s Black Friday. And this year, bargain hunters may have noticed the timing on sales was slightly off, says San Francisco State University Professor of Marketing and Business Sanjit Sengupta.

“Many deals have been implemented before the Thanksgiving holiday,” he said. “This is telling people, ‘Don’t wait to buy that gift.’”

Shoppers brave enough to endure crowds and long lines at stores may be rewarded for their efforts this year. Brick-and-mortar stores are being more aggressive with their low prices. “Best Buy has a 50-inch screen TV for $179,” Sengupta said. “The screen size and price are mind-boggling.”

According to Sengupta, what’s topping people’s gift lists this year are voice recognition programs like the Amazon Echo and virtual reality gaming. “People are curious about trying new technology,” he said.

Avoiding holiday stress

But if the pressure of trekking through the mall — virtual or real — is too much, there are other things to focus on. San Francisco State Assistant Professor of Psychology Ryan Howell points out that it may be more important to spend time with people than to spend hours looking for the perfect gift. “Social connections are so important to our happiness, and most people would rather spend time with you.” Gifts that are experiential — tickets to a play or concert — might be more appreciated than the latest gadget, he says. But if you do buy a gift, make sure that whatever it is brings you closer to the person you are giving the gift to. “It’s less about what you buy and more about how well you know the person,” Howell said. Gifts should also express who you are and what your values are, but the most important thing is that the recipient feels like you thought about who they are and what they like.

On the other hand, spending time with family and friends can be stressful, too, especially if those get-togethers involve chores that don’t make you happy. Howell suggests avoiding those when you can. If cooking a big meal brings you closer to friends and family, it’s probably worth the effort. But if it feels too much like a chore, “go out or have it catered,” Howell said, if you can afford it.

Adam Burke, San Francisco State Professor of Health Education offers some similar advice. “Plan ahead,” he advised. “Don’t wait until the last minute, and stay within your budget. And if you’re late to a party or get-together, don’t sweat it.” If you find yourself becoming flustered and spinning your wheels, he says, tell yourself to “STOP”— stop, take several deep breaths, orient yourself and ask yourself why you are losing it — then press on. And if other people are stressing you out, try to remember our common humanity. “We all have the same joys, fears and hopes,” Burke said.

On a deeper level, practicing gratitude can be a good re-set, especially in frustrating moments. “Reflect and remember what you have to be grateful for,” Burke said. He suggests that focusing on people more than things is another good practice. If you are giving a gift, keep it simple and make it more about the person than feeling the need to buy something big and expensive. At the same time, keep in mind that being generous — giving to others in need and charitable causes — can lead to greater personal happiness.