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4 ways to minimize the stress of sending Christmas cards
There are less than two weeks left until Christmas. Have you sent your holiday cards yet? - photo by Kelsey Dallas
Andrew Leigh's Christmas card photo went viral earlier this month, as people commiserated with the Australian politician's 'Grinchy' son. The 3-year-old is shown sitting apart from his two brothers and parents, appearing pouty and enraged.

"From his perspective, you can understand it: Why stand still when you can play?" Leigh, a member of the Australian Parliament, told The Huffington Post Canada.

By using the photo, the Leigh family created a card guaranteed to make people smile, including themselves. It's a bright spot in a ritual that also produces many groan-worthy final products, like letters that boast about family achievements or a card that's the punchline of other people's jokes, according to mental health experts.

Cards and holiday letters should be about "telling the people you love what they mean to you, not about making others envious, jealous and resentful," said Gail Gross, a family and child development and human behavior researcher. Changing the approach from trying to impress to expressing sincere gratitude makes the annual ritual less overwhelming for card senders and receivers alike.

Gross and other stress specialists offered families these tips for sending out Christmas cards that make everyone feel good:

1. Choose a card style that's right for you

Gross loves receiving cards created with love and care. One of her artistic friends, for example, draws a picture to accompany each of his Christmas greetings.

However, she and her husband bring a simpler approach to their own cards, preferring to send out designs sold by UNICEF with a brief message calling for world peace.

"It's a global message that is so important to me," Gross said.

Figuring out what type of Christmas card is right for your family is an important step toward reducing stress, said Gail Saltz, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the New York Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine.

Long letters detailing the academic and professional achievements of each family member are admirable, but they also put pressure on the person tasked with writing them. "What if it's been a difficult year without great things to report?" she noted.

Other styles, such as photo cards, can be expensive, but they may be a fun way to capture how every family member is growing up, she added.

Both Saltz and Gross encourage families to be honest about how much time and energy they have to dedicate to card writing.

"When you write a Christmas letter, keep it short. People don't like to read tomes," Gross said.

2. Be aware of your reaction to the cards you receive

During the holiday season, around 1.6 billion Christmas cards are purchased and shared, according to the Greeting Card Association. They come in many forms, from silly to serious to awkward.

Gross said people should reflect on the cards they've mocked when they're preparing their own.

"With holiday letters, it's hard to be entertaining without bragging. You don't want to turn people off and have them toss your letter into the pile of cards they make fun of," she said.

Gross suggests splitting holiday letters into two paragraphs: One for reporting family highlights and another for a personalized message to the addressee.

"Share one good thing about each family member and then share something personal about what the (card recipient) means to you," she said.

3. Express gratitude

Although many people think of Christmas cards as an opportunity to catch everyone up on key family events like deaths, marriages and graduations, they're also a chance to express gratitude, said Giacomo Bono, an assistant professor of psychology at California State University, in an email.

"The holiday letter is the perfect opportunity to reach out to those who have made a difference to you in big or small ways and thank them for their role in shaping the past year," Bono said. "Gratitude is a natural stress-reliever."

More than 7 in 10 Americans say they feel stressed during the holiday season, whether because of travel, shopping or organizing festive family meals, according to a recent survey by Harris Poll on behalf of American Greetings. If done with gratitude, Christmas cards can calm some of that chaos, Bono noted.

4. Make the process about love, not obligation

If you're only sending Christmas cards because people expect you to, you may want to reconsider, according to Saltz. The process takes time, and you won't enjoy the mental health benefits of connecting with loved ones if you secretly think sending cards is a silly ritual.

Similarly, Gross said sending cards should be one of the highlights of the season, not one more frustrating task to complete.

"One of my friends like to imagine that the person she's writing to is sitting in front of her. She's able to write a more sincere letter," she said. "To me, that's the ultimate gift: A personal, intimate, loving message."