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JMU experts offer tips for navigating the holidays

by Eric Gorton


Harrisonburg, Virginia — There are lots of good times to look forward to as the holidays approach, but the season can also bring some unwanted stress. Whether it be diet concerns, the pressure of planning events or even anxiety over family gatherings, stress triggers abound. 

Jaime Kurtz, a professor of psychology at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, can discuss strategies for avoiding or reducing holiday tension. Happiness, savoring and decision making are among Kurtz's research interests and she even looks at how people in other countries view happiness compared to Americans. 

Kurtz has authored more than 30 books and papers on the subject of happiness, including, “The Happy Traveler: Unpacking the Secrets of Better Vacations.” 

A few suggestions Kurtz can pass along to ease holiday stress include: 

  • If you are reuniting with family and friends after a period of separation due to the pandemic, take a moment to reflect on how special it is to be together again. In the past, we may have taken certain holiday traditions for granted, but now is a good time to realize that they are not a given.
  • Don't procrastinate. Spread out your shopping and other holiday prep so you're not overwhelmed and battling crowds at the last minute.
  • Anticipate likely challenges. Is there a particular relative you always butt heads with? A person who is especially hard to shop for? Travel headaches that leave you exhausted? You can strategize on how to manage these challenges ahead of time.
  • Consider what research says about gift giving: give gifts that connect you with your loved ones (such as a spa day together), gifts that save time for busy people (a meal delivery service), an experiential gift (movie tickets or a hot air balloon ride) or gifts that somehow really say, "I understand you."
  • Most of all, just take the pressure off of yourself. The more you try to craft a perfect holiday, the more stressed, less present, less connected, and less happy you will be!

JMU experts Jeremy Akers, Rob Alexander and Theresa Lind can also discuss ways to navigate the holidays.

  • Akers directs the graduate dietetics program and can discuss healthy eating strategies for the holidays.
  • Alexander is co-director of the Institute for Constructive Advocacy and Dialogue and can discuss handling difficult conversations that can occur during family gatherings.
  • Lind is a lecturer in the Hart School of Hospitality, Sport and Recreation Management and can discuss tips for successful business and family gatherings.

 This chart lists the experts and the topics they can discuss. 


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To arrange an interview with any of the experts, please contact Eric Gorton, media relations coordinator, at

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Published: Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Last Updated: Tuesday, January 3, 2023

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