For several weeks, the children in the Reese house have been poring over the holiday catalogs that arrived in the mail or through the newspaper.

Even my 2-year-old can say, “I want that.”

There’s a lot they want, but, of course, they’re not getting it all.

As parents, when the holidays roll around, there seems to be a sense of anxiety and stress that arrives with it.

Often it’s tied to money, said Chip Coffey, director of outpatient services for Tempe St. Luke’s Behavioral Health Center.

“The biggest part is the financial aspect. But the other part is the overwhelming part of expectations. We set our expectations so high about what the holidays are supposed to be. We’re trying to use finances and other things to meet that, but it never meets what we wanted. Then there’s the let-down and we get all the guilt that goes with that,” he said.

Earlier, I had told a co-worker I even felt “anxious about the anxiety” that could arrive with the holidays.

But Coffey offered some good advice: Remember that the Christmases and holiday memories we cherish the most are often seen through the eyes of a child.

“I’m an adult now and I need to be more realistic about how I look at the holidays,” Coffey said. “As a child, it’s that wonderful build-up and Santa Claus, and all those gifts. As children, we’re not worried about, ‘Where does the money come from to pay for this?’ … As adults, we’re trying to often re-create that childhood experience, but the reality is we do have to think about the finances. I can’t afford to refinance the house every year to pay for Christmas.”

Coffey said the first step — before going out and making purchases — is to set a budget and realize what gifts are really going to get played with and appreciated over time. It’s also important, Coffey said, to remember that a gift cannot fix a relationship with a loved one, nor does it replace the real present of spending time with family.

“I really can’t spend enough money to buy people’s happiness. I have to look at what I can spend to keep me financially responsible for myself. Parents go out and buy the expensive gift (the children) wanted. They play with it for two hours and it’s done. The kid was let down and the parent was let down,” he said.

Once a budget is set and balanced, Coffey said, it’s important for people to balance their “well-being schedule.” Make time for working out. Get enough sleep. Don’t commit to every holiday party.

And when necessary, take a step back from it all.

“Know when you start to feel yourself reacting. If you’re starting to feel anxious about the holidays or you’re feeling overwhelmed, that’s the time you say, ‘This is too much for me right now and I need a break,’” he said. “For me, when I’m overwhelmed or feel anxious, it’s truly about walking away. Get some physical space and give yourself a chance to walk or read, something that sets your mind at ease and distracts you from what’s going on.

“We as adults have gotten to where we’re programmed to how big and important the holidays are that we forgot to have fun and like them and enjoy it.”


• Michelle Reese covers education for the East Valley Tribune and blogs about motherhood and family issues at Contact her at (480) 898-6549 or

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