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When stress is at its peak, it is hard to stop and regroup. Try to prevent stress in the first place, especially if you know the holidays have taken an emotional toll in the past. Tips you can try to head off holiday stress and depression:



  1. Acknowledge your feelings. If a loved one is ill or has died or you aren’t able to be with your loved ones, realize that it is normal to feel sadness or grief. It’s OK now and then to take time just to cry or express your feelings. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season.  Take time to honor someone who has passed on. One way of coping is to honor their memory rather than mourn their absence.

  2. Seek support. Don’t feel alone if you don’t want to.  If you feel isolated or down, seek out family and friends.  Consider community social services, hospice groups etc. They can offer support and companionship. Consider volunteering. Getting involved and helping others can lift your spirits. Ask help for organizing holiday gatherings, meal preparation and cleanup. You don’t have to go it alone. Don’t be a martyr.

  3. Be realistic. As families grow and change, traditions and rituals often change as well. Hold on to those you can and want to. But accept that you may have to let go of others. For example, if your adult children and grandchildren can’t all gather at your house as usual, find new ways to celebrate together from afar, such as sharing pictures, e-mails or videotapes.

  4. Set differences aside. Be accepting of family and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to all your expectations. Practice forgiveness. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. Be understanding if others get upset when something goes awry. Chances are they are feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression, too.

  5. Respect other’s choices and decisions.  Respect how family members chose to join in and participate.  Respect other’s limits, needs and preferences.  Be flexible and allow for changes.

  6. Know when to end unwanted conversations.  Many families have one or more members who can turn a perfectly fine conversation into a family feud.  When you see things start to take a turn for the worse, DO NOT POKE THE BEAR!  Leave the room if necessary.  Sometimes it helps to prepare anticipated questions in advance so that you have a short answer, a way to change the topic, or a way to tell them they are asking about a sensitive topic that you don’t want to talk about right now.

  7. Stick to a budget. Before you go shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend on gifts and other items. Then stick to that budget. If you don’t, you could feel anxious and tense for months afterward while struggling to pay the bills. You cannot buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts. Donate to a charity in someone’s name, give homemade gifts or start a family gift exchange.

  8. Plan ahead. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, visiting friends and other activities. Plan your menus and then make one big food-shopping trip. It will help save the environment and prevent last-minute forgotten ingredients. Do expect travel delays, especially if you are flying.  Discuss these plans with family members in advance.

  9. Learn to say no. Believe it or not, people will understand if you cannot do certain projects. If you say yes only to what you really want to do, you will avoid feeling resentful, bitter and overwhelmed.

  10. Don’t abandon healthy habits. Don’t let the holidays become a dietary free-for-all. Overindulgence only adds to your stress and guilt. Continue to get plenty of sleep and schedule time for physical activity.

  11. Take a breather. Make time for yourself. Refresh yourself with just 15 minutes alone, without distractions. Steal away to a quiet place, even if the only place is the bathroom. Take a walk, gaze at the stars, listen to soothing music. Clear your mind, slow your breathing and restore your inner calm.   List in advance your coping strategies.

  12. Rethink resolutions. Unrealistic resolutions can set you up for failure. Don’t resolve to change your whole life. Instead, set smaller, more specific goals with a reasonable time frame. Choose only resolutions that help you feel valuable and that provide more than only fleeting moments of happiness.

  13. Forget about perfection. Holiday TV specials are filled with happy endings. But in real life, people don’t usually resolve problems within a 2 hour time slot. Something always comes up. Remember Murphy’s Law and accept imperfections in yourself and in others.


Seek Professional help if you need it. Despite your best efforts, if you are persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable, feel hopeless and unable to face routine chores, and these symptoms last several weeks, speak to a doctor or a mental health professional. It could be depression.

How to lower your stress: Services
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