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By Alexandra Sifferlin
December 22, 2014

This holiday, make it a priority to not rip your hair out.

To help you survive the season, we asked psychologist Pauline Wallin, author of Taming Your Inner Brat, for some tips on how to avoid some of the most common pitfalls of the holidays. (But if Aunt Susie drinks too much egg nog, we can’t help you).

If your family is driving you crazy…
One of the best parts of the holidays can also be one of the worst parts of the holidays. Spending quality time with family doesn’t happen often for most of us, but with the expectations of the holidays and the increased amount of face time, it’s easy for someone to lose their lid. Here’s how to cool it.
For parents: You have guests coming, and the bums you call your children are doing a lousy job at cleaning. To avoid this stresser, lay out your expectations early. “When you feel like other people are driving you crazy, it’s often because they don’t have the same sense of urgency that you do,” says Wallin. Instead, tell your kids ahead of time that the house needs to be clean by 10 a.m., or that you are going to be stressed and would appreciate it if they stay out of your way. It’s an easy way to start out on the same page.
For kids and teens: If you really don’t want to go to Aunt Susie’s for dinner, get over it by finding a way to make it count. Think of it as a gift to your family to spend time with them without giving anyone ‘tude. If you’re really feeling irked, ask kindly for a little time alone. Go on a walk, read a book for an hour, or offer to get out of the house and grab groceries.

If someone spills something or you burn the roast…
Take a picture of it. Seriously, pull out that smart phone and snap a photo of the disaster. “If you’re going to laugh about it later, you might as well laugh about it now,” says Wallin. No dinner party is immune to a rip or spill or the tragic loss of the Christmas goose. Laugh it off, post it to Instagram, and move on.

If you’re stressed about the cost of all those presents…
Do you remember what you received for Christmas last year? Probably not. Wallin says one of the most common stressers she sees among patients around the holidays is financial stress. “But never once have I heard someone say, ‘I’ve never forgiven them for not getting me the new iPhone.'” We tend to put a lot of weight on the presents, but guests are more likely to remember the moments shared than what was in the stocking. So try not to stress about finding the perfect gift, and there’s zero shame in bargain hunting.

If your to-do list alone is freaking you out…
This year, instead of making a “To Do” list, make a “To Don’t” list. “Decide what you’re not going to do, and just let it go,” says Wallin. “It’s a tremendous sense of relief.” If you can’t figure out when you’re going to have time for caroling, just skip it. If you don’t have time (or don’t want to make time) for home-baked cookies, don’t both! You don’t have to do everything. If it’s more stress than it’s worth, it won’t be that fun.

If you’re not feeling any warm, fuzzy, holiday feelings…
Instead of scrambling to make everything perfect, carve out time to just sit and talk to friends and family. “We get so busy that we forget the holidays are about people,” says Wallin. Get everyone off the grid and ask for cell phones to be put away while you play a game or watch a movie. Even just taking 20 minutes to sit with a family member you don’t regularly see is a great way to remember to the real meaning of the season.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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