There are many ways to deal with holiday stress including counseling

For many, the Christmas holiday season is a happy time full of family and happy memories. For others, it is a very depressing and stressful time.

It is a myth that suicide rates spike during Christmas; actually, spring is when the highest rates of suicide occur, according to the Mayo Clinic. But holiday depression is a genuine struggle for many people.

High expectations, money woes, loneliness, grief, and other holiday hazards can make it a very bleak time for many people. If you are having a hard time getting your holiday cheer on, here are some suggestions to help you make it through the holidays including online counseling at

Manage Your Schedule

The holidays can be overwhelming. Planning ahead and deciding who you are spending the holidays with, how much you are spending on gifts and what activities you are taking part in will help with the stress. Uncertainty and putting off decision-making adds enormous stress to what is already stressful.

Also, make time to take care of yourself, include in your routine making time to exercise and eat properly. 

It is normal to overeat during the holidays, but be aware of how certain foods affect your mood. If you eat fats and sweets, you will have less energy, which in turn can make you feel more stressed and run down.

It can be beneficial to take a walk before and/or after a big holiday meal. John Sharp, MD, a psychiatrist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, in Boston recommends to “Figure out what basics are going to help you get through the holidays and make them a priority.”

Manage Expectations 

Voltaire: “The best is the enemy of the good.”

Confucius: “Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.”

Shakespeare: “Striving to better, oft we mar what’s well.”

Great minds throughout history have known that one way to ensure success is to “not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Everybody has a vision of the perfect Christmas, be it drinking hot chocolate around the Christmas tree surrounded by friends and family as the snow falls outside.

Others may have different perceptions of the ideal Christmas but very rarely do the holidays turn out like a Hallmark movie. Trying to find the perfect gifts, decorating, cooking and all the other holiday activities can be overwhelming.

Adding in the pressure to feel happy and joyful like everyone else can make it difficult indeed. The American Psychological Association has some tips for managing your (and others) expectations this holiday season.

Set realistic expectations. No Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or other holiday celebration is perfect. View any missteps as opportunities to exercise your flexibility and resilience.

A lopsided tree or a burned brisket won’t ruin your holiday — it will create a family memory. If your children’s wish list is outside your budget, talk to them about realistic expectations and remind them that the holidays aren’t about expensive gifts.

Be proactive. If you are concerned about potentially difficult conversations at family gatherings, such as during the holidays, remember these events are about bringing people together, not driving them apart. Focus on good memories and what you and your family have in common. Plan activities that foster fun and laughter, such as playing a family game or looking through old photo albums.

Keep things in perspective. On the whole, the holiday season is short. It helps to maintain a broader context and a longer-term perspective. If something goes wrong, realize it’s not the end of the world.

Remember the good things you have in your life and recognize that this situation will pass. There will be time after the holiday season to follow up or do more of things we’ve overlooked or did not have the time to do during the holidays.

Remember what’s important. Commercialism can overshadow the true sentiment of the holiday season. When your holiday expense list is fatter than your monthly budget, scale back. Remind yourself that family, friends and the relationships are what matter most.

Take time for yourself. You may feel pressured to be everything to everyone. Remember that you’re only one person and can only accomplish certain things. Sometimes self-care is the best thing you can do — others will benefit when you’re feeling less stressed. (Stress, depression and the holidays: Tips for coping)

Reflect on aspects of your life that give you joy, go for a long walk, get a massage, or listen to your favorite music or read a new book. All of us need some time to recharge our batteries. Be mindful and focus on the present rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. Talking with an online counselor can be a resourceful tool at your disposal.  Click on the link for a list of online licensed counselors:

Remember that everything doesn’t have to be perfect and don’t worry about things that are out of your control. You won’t get everything you want and won’t feel like singing “White Christmas” all the time. Don’t set yourself up for failure by comparing yourself to others or Christmas past.

Your best defense is to think about the deeper meaning of the holidays and be thankful for the good things in your life.

Manage Your Mental Health

The stress of the holidays can be a trigger for sadness and depression. The holidays can be especially tricky because there’s an expectation of feeling merry and generous, which can accentuate the feeling of isolation and hopelessness that many people feel over the holidays.

People compare their emotions to what they assume others are experiencing or what they should feel and then think that they are the only ones feeling the way they do. It can make the holidays even harder and drive people to either isolate themselves or hide how they are feeling because they somehow think they are wrong.

It is important to remember that emotions are neither right or wrong, they are merely tools to help us understand ourselves. Here are a few tips from the Mayo Clinic on how to manage your emotional health this holiday season.

Acknowledge your feelings. If someone close to you has recently died, or you can’t be with loved ones, realize that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. It’s OK to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season.

Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out a community, religious or other social events. They can offer support and companionship. Volunteering your time to help others is also an excellent way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships.

Learn forgiveness and acceptance. If some of your relatives have always acted out or made you feel bad, chances are that won’t change. If you know what you’re getting into, it will be easier not to let them push your buttons. If things get uncomfortable go to a movie or for a drive and adjust.

Christmas is an excellent time for forgiveness and fresh starts. In 2013, Pope Francis was addressing a gathering on the family in Rome. “Please forgive me” are words family members need to hear from each other, Pope Francis said. “Then you start over.”

Forgiveness does not erase past hurts or even present difficulties. Neither is forgiveness a form of permission for others to harm us again or recklessly create problems. Still, experts recognize that forgiveness is essential for good mental health, not only for Christmas but year around. 9 Tips to Cope with Holiday Depression. (9 Tips to Cope with Holiday Depression)

Most Importantly

If you (or someone you know) is struggling, get help. There are a great many resources available to help deal with the emotional stress of the holidays.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline 800-273-8255

National Hopeline Network 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433) is a tremendous resource to find an online counselor.

In addition to national resources there are many options locally; a trusted friend or family member, a religious leader or health provider who can listen, emphasize and help you through.

We are wishing you our warmest Christmas wishes and glad tiding from the Sandhills Sentinel family to yours. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

Written by Sandhills Sentinel Reporter, Chris Prentice.

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