Turn your holiday stress into a teachable moment. Here's how

(CNN)The holidays are upon us. Thanksgiving is right around the corner, with Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa following in quick succession.

It's a stressful time of year when times are normal -- and the second year of the pandemic is anything but normal, especially when combined with inflation, gas prices, food and toy shortages, and shipping delays.
    For help in coping, CNN reached out to stress management expert Dr. Cynthia Ackrill, an editor for Contentment magazine, produced by The American Institute of Stress.
      This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.
        CNN: Why are holidays typically so stressful, even in normal times, and what can we do to reduce that pressure?
        Dr. Cynthia Ackrill: We have a lot of expectations as to what we're supposed to do or feel, right? We have catalogs that show us we need to have the perfect kind of a nice home, decorated to the hilt for the holidays.
          We believe that we should have happy families where everyone gets along. We try to do too much, we spend too much, all with an unrealistic expectation that we can provide everything that brings us joy.
          It was a lot of pressure before Covid. It's even more pressure now. So, this is not a time to overextend ourselves -- we are exhausted just from processing the last two years! It's time for reflection. It's time for more patience, compassion and kindness. It's time to let go of the maladaptive behaviors of overeating, overdrinking and overspending that can be so much a part of the holidays.
          One doesn't need five Christmas trees to get the meaning of Christmas. Instead, we need to spend personal time to ramp up the behaviors that fulfill us, add meaning and make us stronger.
          And I think we do have a wonderful opportunity this holiday season to focus on what really matters to us and our families. An opportunity to scale down unrealistic expectations and do just those things that give each of us meaning and bring us joy.
          Start by having a meeting with your family.