But how bad can it get? A 1999 study, published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, found a sharp increase in the number of cardiac deaths starting around Thanksgiving and rising steadily until around New Year’s Day, when the number dropped off again. Previous researchers have found similar trends, which they sometimes attributed to cold weather. However, the death records analyzed for this study came from sunny Southern California. Robert Kloner, MD, PhD, lead author of the study, thinks it’s very possible that the holidays may play a role. “Not only are many people under more stress, but they also may overindulge. They tend to eat more food, drink more alcohol and take in more salt this time of year” Says Kloner.

It doesn’t have to be that way, though. Below, several experts offer advice on finding a remedy for the “bah, humbug!” bug.

The gift of sanity

It may be better to give than to receive, but it’s easy to forget that sentiment when you’ve just spent three hours braving the mob at your local mall. “Gifts are actually meant to be symbols of love,” says Caplan. In a consumer-oriented society, however, this sweet idea is easily perverted into the stress of excess. Says Caplan, “People spend an enormous amount of time and energy roaming the stores or flipping through catalogs in a desperate attempt to demonstrate love to their families.” They also spend a vast amount of money, which often means starting the new year in debt.

The irony is that fancy, expensive gifts may mean more to the giver than to the receiver. This is most apparent with children. “One or two gifts that don’t even have to cost much will totally satisfy them,” says Caplan. “When you overwhelm children with too many gifts, they get caught up in the materialistic frenzy of the adults, tearing the gifts open, then tossing them aside. Fifty gifts may not be as satisfying to them as a set of cookie cutters for making cookies in the afternoon.”

In contrast to costly trinkets, young and old alike almost always appreciate gifts of time and attention. “You might give your child an IOU for pitching a baseball or playing at the park, or your spouse an IOU for a back rub,” says Dorothea Lack, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist from San Francisco who runs groups to help people cope with holiday blues. Handmade gifts also show how much you care, and making them is an effective stress reliever for many people.