The holidays are fast upon us. In the blink of an eye, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa, and New Year’s Eve will have already come and gone.

Holidays bring much time spent with family from near and far, preparing and making elaborate holiday dinners and attending parties, buying expensive gifts to show loved ones how much we care and decorating our homes in holiday regalia. We may even find ourselves up late into the night baking cookies for our children’s teachers, our neighbors, and our co-workers and supervisors.

There’s no denying that, despite the holidays being a special time to reconnect with family and friends, heightened expectations may lead to depression, anxiety, irritability, sleeplessness and exhaustion. And asking for help, even outside of the holiday season, is difficult for many of us to do.

Other major sources of holiday-related anxiety and depression are family conflicts, divorce, complicated blended family dynamics, and recent deaths of loved ones. Missing special family members brings about profound feelings of anxiety, grief and mourning.

It is important not to ignore holiday season-related depression and anxiety. Taking positive steps toward minimizing unnecessary holiday-related stress increases our chances of having a happier and healthier holiday season. In most cases, holiday-related depression and anxiety can be lessened by striking a healthy balance between our expectations and our realities.

Below are a few tips for reducing holiday season depression and anxiety:

  • Evaluate your holiday expectations.
    Decide which expectations are achievable and which are not. If you are working full-time and caring for young children, or caring for aging parents, volunteering to cook a large holiday dinner may not be doable, especially if you also want to enjoy it.
  • Be present when you are with your loved ones.
    Put away cell phones, computers, and other distractions so you can focus on the people who mean the most to you.
  • Be sure to get enough sleep.
    Research suggests that seven to nine hours of sleep a night significantly improves our ability to regulate our mood and improves our thinking and decision-making skills.
  • Delegate responsibility.
    Try to anticipate when and what you will need help with. Ask for help in advance. This will decrease your chance of setting yourself up for feeling frantic and overwhelmed. For example, ask your family to help you with cooking and cleanup. This is also a great opportunity for connecting and spending time together.
  • Make time for exercise.
    Exercising for 30 minutes a day, a minimum of three days per week, has consistently been shown to improve mood, sleep, and to reduce anxiety.
  • Set aside differences.
    Try to accept family members and friends as they are. When possible, set aside another time to sort out family conflicts and grievances.
  • Stick to a budget.
    Before buying all your gifts decide on a budget that’s right for you. Don’t feel guilty if your budget does not allow for elaborate gifts. Remember that love and happiness cannot be bought with an avalanche of gifts.
  • Seek professional help if you need it.
    Despite your best efforts, if you find yourself still feeling sad, anxious, having physical complaints and unable to sleep, talk to a mental health professional.

Holiday stress photo available from Shutterstock