’Tis the season to be stressed

The frenzied pace of the holidays is, for some, akin to an adrenaline rush that lasts from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, propelling them to shop, cook, clean, entertain and be entertained with enthusiasm and verve. For others, the holidays are anxiety producing and overwhelming, a time during which disappointments and frustrations abound – and ultimately, in which loneliness prevails.

Experts say there is a happy medium between these two extremes that can help you not only cope with holiday stress, but also rise comfortably above it.

’Tis better to give than receive. Giving to others inspires good feeling – and we’re not talking about giving presents. Volunteering at a local shelter or agency, or offering assistance to a family or friend who needs help – raking leaves, shoveling snow, grocery shopping or getting to an appointment – will boost your mood more than unwrapping yet another article of clothing or gadget that you don’t really need (or even want). Giving your time to others feels good, sets a good example for your children and opens your heart in a way a present can’t.

Don’t overbook. Commitments seem to skyrocket during the holiday season. Everyone is having a get-together or party, your job is suddenly more demanding because fewer people are around to share the burden, and family and friends want more of your time. Weigh your options and prioritize. Don’t feel obligated – and practice saying no. You’ll feel more at peace if you make sure to carve out some down time for yourself, rather than shuffling from one event and commitment to the next. If you do find yourself overbooked, ask for help.

Lower your expectations. The holidays of your childhood are not the holidays of your adulthood. Embrace today. Try to accept your situation in all its loveliness or disarray. It’s nearly impossible to adhere to tradition year after year with so many of life’s variables: children grow up and move away, loved ones fall ill or pass away, marriages dissolve. Survey the present landscape and see what you can preserve from past traditions. Take what is meaningful and tailor it to your present circumstances.

Cut corners without guilt. Who says you have to cook like Martha Stewart for the holidays? Maybe your time is more precious to you than preparing a feast fit for a king. Take your menu down a notch – or several. Serve sandwiches or pizza – and use the time you would have spent cooking to instead enjoy friends and family. The same goes for decking your halls. Whether your home is barren or bursting with boughs of holly, do what suits you this holiday season. And whatever extreme you gravitate toward, try not to judge yourself.

Set a gift-giving budget. It’s easy to get caught up in the commercialization of the holidays. Advertising starts early – sometimes even before Thanksgiving – and there’s an unmistakable push to market anything and everything as must-have fare for the holidays. Make a list. Check it twice. And stick to it. It may be tempting to deviate from your list and treat yourself to a little of this or that, but in the end, your pocketbook – and your conscience – will appreciate your restraint. A debt-free holiday is a very good gift to give to yourself and your family.

Toast the holidays – but not too much. Imbibing spirits is not exactly the best way to improve your holiday spirits. As you reach for a festive cocktail, remember that alcohol is a depressant. Like everything else, enjoy it in moderation. If you suffer from depression or anxiety, drinking alcohol may not be a wise choice. Check with your doctor if you take medication to treat your condition, as many medications don’t mix well with alcohol.

Get some perspective. Whether you find release in exercise or escape in a good book, carve out some time to do what helps ground you. Take a walk, cuddle up with your pet or engage in your most cherished spiritual practice – whatever you choose, do it because it soothes you and clarifies your perspective on what is important in life.

When it’s more than just the blues

For some, the holiday blues are a strain – albeit a fleeting one – on the body and mind. But for others, the season complicates an already serious condition such as clinical depression or anxiety. If you suffer from anxiety or depression, or have a history of either, you may be more susceptible to the onset of an episode at this particular time of year. The colder, darker months we experience, coupled with the elevated expectations of the holidays, can put undue pressure on people in an already compromised state of mind.

Talking to your health care provider about an adjustment in medication at this time of year may be helpful – as well as stepping up talk therapy or counseling sessions. Adequate sleep and proper nutrition are also crucial to maintaining your mental health.

If you or someone you love has a history of depression or anxiety, make sure you have strategies in place to prevent the condition from getting worse.