It's the holiday season again and as store shelves fill with autumn platters and pumpkins and decorations, our calendars also fill with extra plans and events. It's a season of family and friends and laughter and thankfulness " so why is it so stressful?

It's the holiday season again and as store shelves fill with autumn platters and pumpkins and decorations, our calendars also fill with extra plans and events. It's a season of family and friends and laughter and thankfulness "¦ so why is it so stressful?

There are a variety of stresses, says life and business coach Ryan Motsinger of Motsinger Interests, LLC in Medford. Relationships, finances, scheduling and workloads all take their toll. "All of these are major stresses," says Motsinger. "But the reality is that whatever one's biggest source of stress is, they all come back to one issue — expectations on oneself." We want everyone to be happy or the house to be perfect or the boss to give us a "well done" and we often set unrealistic expectations that are reinforced by our perceptions of others around us.

"The mass media can emphasize products, consumerism and deflate the feelings of connection people desire," says Barbara Massey, licensed marriage and family therapist with ParkPlace Counseling Center in Medford.

And both Motsinger and Massey acknowledge that this year economic uncertainties are adding to the usual holiday stress. "Given our current economic situation, this year will see stress multiplied," says Motsinger.

"I would submit the even greater stress will come in February when the bills are due because so many people will put holiday gifts on credit cards." Massey cautions, "People move toward the "extremes" of their style when stress is increased and old family patterns are more likely to reemerge — chaotic families will become more disorganized; individuals who are prone to depression may increase their hopelessness."

But in recognizing those tendencies, we can also work to change them. "This season is another opportunity to be aware, change our expectations and let things be different than what we thought it would be like," reminds Massey.

And it begins with recognizing your priorities, says Motsinger. "Without proper priority management, you'll only be organizing an overloaded schedule that will still leave you tired emotionally, physically, and relationally." So ask yourself, What is most important to me?

Relationships
"Most people need more strategies for dealing with relatives," says Massey. "Many people are aware of the same old conflict in the family get-together. Limiting time together, not talking politics if that is volatile, going on walks to get out of the house and being with just a few others, are some of the ways people manage the family stressors." There's also a positive side, she reminds. "Families or couples away from extended relatives can invite others over from their community and build new relationships."

Time
"Time is one of the real presents the holidays offer us," says Motsinger. "Time to write mom a letter. Time to take the kids sledding. Time to bake really good cookies for those you love. Time to make love visible through relational giving, rather than a gift that will be soon forgotten." But, he cautions, "Leave room for interruptions." And Massey agrees, "Women tend to do too much ('tend and befriend') as a way of managing their stress." Leave time to be good to yourself, too.

Finances
Have a budget for the entertaining and gift-giving that goes along with the holidays. "Sleep, eating and purchases are some of the items that we have control over and can choose wisely about," reminds Massey. And don't be pressured into overextending your finances. "How many gifts do we give, and receive, out of obligation?" reminds Motsinger. Instead, he suggests, "Give presence, not presents" through time together and creative gifts to the people that matter most to us.

Who knows, it may turn out to be the best holiday ever.