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By Hartsville Vidette Staff Reporter

There are two trains of thought when it comes to the holiday season: one that happily hops aboard the flurry of gatherings and one that anxiously thinks, “Just get me into January already!”

Yes, festive decorations and heartfelt declarations of peace on earth and good will abound, but often so do conflicting schedules and family drama that take us out of what should be enjoyable moments all around.

As year-end celebrations approach, you can proactively take easy steps to make each one better than expected. Here are three simple ways to avoid holiday stress.

Be Flexible. A lot of holiday stress is wrapped up in scheduling issues. Families may have lived closer together in previous generations but now often are scattered to the wind. It can be difficult just getting everyone in the same room at one time. The key to reducing anxiety in this case is to be flexible with traditions. You can still call it Thanksgiving if it happens on a Saturday, and you can still call it Christmas if the gift exchange is a week early at a new meeting place. Focus more on the grander goal of just being together.

Be Prepared. Throughout the holidays and life in general, family members sometimes have unresolved tension between them. Instead of dreading the next inevitable encounter, simply prepare for it. Anticipate when stress points may arrive and have a practiced response or solution. If you’re stuck across the table from a cousin who still blames you for something from years ago, you can calmly ask, “Can we please not do this today?” It’s in your power to prevent a rift from becoming an explosion — kindness goes a long way even when it may be difficult.

Be Present. Don’t overlook the gift of being face-to-face with family. It’s the perfect time to connect, unwind and celebrate one another’s accomplishments in the past year. If loved ones have passed away in that time, special moments of remembrance are certainly appropriate. However, I encourage people not to get too “stuck in the losses” during the holidays. Some joyful new traditions may be born in the process of “finding the new normal.” The best present is to be present and focus on all you still have.

Start with a clean slate — don’t mess with holiday stress! If you’d like more guidance on managing conflict or need help in the New Year, call Centerstone at 888-291-4357.

Ken Stewart is a licensed Senior Psychological Examiner and Regional Vice President at Centerstone (centerstone.org) overseeing the organization’s integrated behavioral health care services in the South Central, Southeast and Upper Cumberland regions of Tennessee.