The holiday season is a time for family gatherings, parties, gift exchanges, good food, and celebration--and that can be a problem. The many expectations and responsibilities placed on us during this time can be a major source of stress, anxiety, depression, and loneliness.

On top of that, those of us who live in the northern hemisphere may be susceptible to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), when the reduced sunshine, shorter days, and cold weather can affect our mental health. And if you're grieving a major loss this year, the holidays can be especially painful.

If, as the end of the year approaches, you feel your blood pressure rising or your mood falling, here are some simple practices that can help you get through the holidays.

1. Keep your expectations in check.

If your day-to-day life already causes you enough stress, then it's important to keep your own expectations for the holidays manageable. If you're not able to do everything you want to do or you're not able to afford everything you want to buy, that's perfectly fine.

Despite what we tell ourselves, there is no such thing as the perfect holiday season. Keeping things simple--like getting takeout or ordering all your Christmas presents online--may actually help you enjoy the holidays more.

The reality is that others probably won't notice if you take some shortcuts or keep things simple. Most important is your own contentment with setting limits.

2. It's okay to say no.

We may feel a lot of pressure to do certain things or act a certain way around the holidays. Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is to say no to the expectation of others.

Don't want to throw that holiday party that your family and friends expect? That's fine. Do you want to spend time with one or two close loved ones instead of attending big gatherings? That's okay too. Would you rather give small, meaningful presents rather than big, expensive ones? That's a very reasonable option.

You don't have to celebrate the holidays a particular way, and you certainly don't have to celebrate it the way others want you to. It's okay to find your own meaningful ways of marking the season--and you'll find that most everyone will be okay with that too.

3. Commit time to self-care.

Self-care should be a regular part of your routine at any time of year, but during this season, when there is so much external pressure to do certain things, it's especially critical. It's such a busy time of year that you may even want to block out time in your calendar for self-care.

Make sure to engage in activities that nourish your soul, whether it's reading, exercising, spending time with a close friend, or getting away for the weekend. If you're susceptible to SAD, being outside (even if it's freezing) and getting some sunlight exposure are also important for your well-being.

4. Be kind to others.

Happiness is closely correlated with generosity and kindness. But this doesn't require you to break the bank or exhaust yourself.

You can volunteer at a local community organization for a few hours, donate to your favorite charity, pass out snacks to strangers on the street, or simply offer a smile and kind word to those you encounter. If you know someone who is grieving at this time, bring them a meal or simply sit with them in their sorrow.

Oftentimes, when we take a moment to stop focusing on ourselves, we find strength and encouragement from others. Scientists have found that the key to a happy and health life is relationships. And that's probably the key to a happy holiday as well.

The best part of this time of year is the opportunity to connect with others--whether they are new acquaintances, old friends, or family members. If you're able to do that with even one person, then you can consider your holiday season a wonderful success.

Published on: Dec 8, 2018