The meltdown in the economy and the crisis in confidence couldn't have come at a worse time. Have you been feeling stretched by the financial pressure? If you're facing tough buying decisions, the responsibilities of the holiday season may even be getting you down. These are challenging times. This year, in more ways than one, you just have to let go of the idea of a perfect Christmas, Hanukah or Kwanzaa.

Even though it's important to honor the tradition of giving, the accumulation of material things can't hold a candle to the gift that matters most. Bringing cheer to others is a great way to cheer yourself up as well. And you can do it without breaking into your savings account. With the holidays fast approaching, you certainly don't want more pressure. So follow these practical tips and keep stress in check as you focus on more joy and less stuff:

1. Give the gift of connection. Put heart in your relationships. Arrange a regular weekly date with your parents. Invite them out to lunch, a museum or the movies. Send a card to someone with whom you've lost contact. Enclose a recent family photo, your email address and a promise to keep in touch. Drive an elderly neighbor to the grocery store, a doctor's appointment or the shopping mall.

2. Give to a worthy cause. Get the family or a group of friends together and spend a couple of hours at a homeless shelter. Pass forward gifts you've never used. Or bring some toys or clothes that are in good shape. Buy a small present for a street person you pass regularly and make eye contact when you give it. Put a big smile on your face and help cook the holiday dinner at a soup kitchen. Make a donation to Aunt Sue's favorite charity; every gift counts no matter how much you spend.

3. Give of yourself. Enjoy time with your friends by inviting them over for an evening of fun. Organize a potluck dinner and have them bring their signature dish. Cut down on expenses by exchanging memories instead of presents. Or express yourself and create some of your holiday gift items. Make a coupon book filled with orders for good deeds. Add a personal touch by baking decorative cookies with the kids. Show others you care with an IOU to babysit so they can have a much needed night out.

4. Give to yourself. Take some down time over the holidays. For a couple of hours each day, try not to focus on your problems. Curl up with a great book from the library, watch the ballgame with your teenagers or take your grandkids to the park. Enjoy peace of mind by paying down your debts. Hold back from buying lots of gifts or taking the family on an expensive outing. Decide together how to spend a fun and relaxing day. Your family will understand and grow from the experience.

The holidays don't always have to look like a Norman Rockwell painting. You create more stress for yourself if you stick to old routines and operate on automatic pilot. Begin to lay the groundwork for change in your gift giving rituals. As you can see, it doesn't have to cost you anything but time. And when money is tight and life is challenging, connection and support mean the most.

It will be a gift to yourself when you recreate the joy of simpler days. Small changes can represent a new beginning. Take heart as you give a little that feels like a lot. And in these hard times, that's a good lesson for all of us.

2008, Her Mentor Center

Author's Bio: 

Phyllis Goldberg, Ph.D. & Rosemary Lichtman, Ph.D. are co-founders of, a website for midlife women and, a blog for the sandwich generation. They are authors of a forthcoming book about family relationships and publish a free newsletter, Stepping Stones, through their website. As psychotherapists, they have over 40 years of collective private practice experience.