Fairview Park Hospital - December 18, 2016

"It’s the most wonderful time of the year," goes the old song. But for many of us, not so much. Stress from holiday parties and family gatherings, high-maintenance houseguests and endless trips to the mall can all add up. And if you're coping with the death of a loved one or other major loss, this time of year can be downright depressing.

Don’t let stress take the happy out of your holidays. These simple mental strategies can help you manage stress, ease tension and even beat the blues – not just at the holidays, but all year long.

  1. Lower your expectations.
    • Putting pressure on yourself to make your holidays Pinterest-perfect is a sure-fire way to up stress and anxiety, says Jared Gaines, MD, of West Palm Hospital in Florida. “We can all fall prey to setting expectations way too high,” adds psychiatrist Paul Schneider, DO. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment. Instead, focus on the quality of time you get to spend with others, and enjoy the moments for what they are.
  2. Admit when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
    • This time of year, it's easy to over-commit, over-shop -- heck, overdo everything. “Don’t try to take on too much,” Dr. Gaines cautions. “Reach out to your loved ones," he suggests. If you're planning a holiday party, ask others to bring a dish or to help with clean-up. "This can help you take some of that burden off yourself," Gaines says.
  3. Be realistic, and accept some stress.
    • Let's face it: The holidays will always be somewhat hectic. And that's okay, says Gaines. “Sometimes, the stress can be worth it." To help manage the stress, try making to-do lists, suggests Dr. Schneider. “It gives you a sense of accomplishment to complete a task and cross it off," he says.
  4. Acknowledge your feelings – even the negative ones.
    • It’s not just regular day-to-day stress that can get in the way of a happy holiday. Dealing with the loss of a loved one can also make this a more difficult time of year.

You may be remembering moments spent together – birthdays, graduations or past holidays -- and that can be hard, says Gaines. Instead of shutting down, he says, try talking about it. Share your feelings and memories with someone you trust, maybe even while looking at old family photos. This can help you reflect on more positive times and cherish them.