It's the time of year that many people look forward to and get excited about. For others, it's a very different story, one that seems stressful, chaotic, overwhelming and even depressing. The good news: making it through the holidays is doable.
Prakash Masand, M.D., a Duke University psychiatrist and founder of the Centers of Psychiatric Excellence (copepsychiatry.com), offers these tips:
Schedule some alone time -- The holidays can be a chaotic time with friends and family, and it's OK to plan some alone time. Ask your spouse to watch the kids for an hour and go to the spa, or go hit a bucket of golf balls. Seeking some solitude is both healthy and necessary to reduce stress.
Don't procrastinate -- There's so much to do: presents, cooking, decorating and more. Saving it all for the last minute will raise stress. Start a few weeks ahead of time and do a little at a time. Making a list from most important to least important will also help manage activities better.
Eliminate financial stressors -- Big-ticket items can take a toll on wallets and stress levels. Make a budget when it comes to holiday shopping and stick to it.
Expect things to go wrong -- Your son may hate his Christmas gift. Your daughter might get sick. You may overcook the ham. The point is, things will go wrong. Appreciate the season for the time spent with loved ones and create new memories, and don't sweat the small stuff.
Avoid family conflicts -- Holidays are not the time, but many individuals try to resolve long-standing conflicts, often with disastrous consequences, particularly when alcohol is involved. Leave addressing those issues to a later time in a one-to-one conversation.
Let others help -- Don't feel like you have to be the hero of the holiday season. Ask each person to bring a dish to dinner, make decorating a family activity where the kids help out, and consider a grab bag gift exchange where each person buys only one gift to alleviate the stress of having to get something for everyone.
Don't forget about you -- People get so caught up in the holidays that they forget to take care of themselves. Don't skip meals, get plenty of sleep, drink lots of water and stick to your exercise routine.
Stay on any prescribed medication and keep scheduled doctor's appointments. If you're under the care of a psychiatrist or other mental health professional for anxiety or depression, make sure to keep doctor's appointments this time of year and don't taper medication until after the New Year if your doctor recommends it.
Prakash Masand is founder, chairman and CEO of Global Medical Education and also serves as adjunct professor at the Academic Medicine Education Institute, Duke-National University of Singapore Medical School.