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Don't let holiday stress get you down this Christmas season
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Q. Rather than feeling festive, the holidays often leave me feeling anxious, irritable or let down. What are some ways I can set aside the stress to enjoy the season?

A. The holiday season depicted in magazines, greeting cards and TV specials doesn't always translate to our real life experiences. From family feuds to budget woes, the most wonderful time of the year can also be the most stress-inducing time of year.

• Common Stress Factors: Some of the most common factors that can lead to mental and emotional turmoil during the holiday season include:

• finances

• time management issues

• big expectations

• family troubles

• personal tragedy

Coping With Holiday Stress

While we can't wring all the stress out of the holidays, we often have more control over our situation than we allow ourselves to access. When stress in unavoidable, we can also adjust our stress management style. Some specific ways to cope with holiday stress include:

• Keeping Your Expectations Real: Our expectations for the holiday season should stay on track with our year round expectations. Life is full of surprises, disappointments, and simple, ordinary moments. These experiences can be just as unpredictable and imperfect during the holidays. Step away from the television specials for a bit if you find yourself feeling down when you compare your real life holiday experience to the fictional world. If it's a matter of achieving the perfect holiday experience for your kids, remember that parents who exercise the ability to set limits and maintain realistic expectations are also teaching their children some valuable life skills.

• Exercising The Right To Say "No:" The word "no" is not a dirty word. In fact, it can be very liberating in many forms. Prioritize obligations, invitations, and other demands on your time, emotions and budget, and learn to say "No," to some, as in "No, I'm sorry but that toy is too expensive," or "No, unfortunately our schedule is so busy this time of year that we can't make it to the party."

• Not Pretending: If there are consistent sources of tension in your family relationships, don't plan to stay all day or plaster on a happy face as you enter the room and merrily chat with a person who usually upsets you. It's okay to avoid certain people without bringing attention to the reason you wish to avoid them. By doing so, you'll probably reduce your stress levels before, during, and after these gatherings.

• Sticking To A Budget: Be realistic about your budget, but set some limits. If you're tempted to toss the budget aside, take a hard look at your personal values and see if it's still worth the added stress. If you're still tempted, remind yourself that this added stress can linger long after the holiday season is over, as you try to make ends meet, while many holiday purchases offer only immediate and temporary gratification.

• Taking Care of Your Self: The holidays are not a time to abandon your normal health routine. Now more than ever, you need restful sleep, regular exercise, and balanced nutrition. Try to limit alcohol use as it can exacerbate rather than solve pressures and personal trials during the holidays. Slow down. Take a breather and some time for yourself, as well as personal reflection or prayer.

• Making New Traditions: If life changes or personal loss leave you grieving for holidays past, don't force yourself to observe traditions that don't feel right anymore. Adjust your holiday experience to suit your current situation and personal needs, then if and when the time is right, you can revisit old traditions or begin some new ones.

• Asking For Help: This is especially important for people who are dealing with the loss of a loved one during the holidays. While friends and family may want to help, they may not know how to help. Don't be afraid to reach out to loved ones, who can assist with household chores, errands, holiday shopping, or other tasks that may seem to overwhelming to face alone. Along with help, feel free to ask for company if you need to talk to someone and understanding if you need to back away from invitations.

If you continue to feel overwhelmed or isolated by your stress or depression, it is important that you seek additional help by joining a support group, consulting your physician or making an appointment with a professional therapist.

- Dr. Reilly treats depression, anxiety, ADD/ADHD, dually diagnosed (developmentally disabled people with mental disorders), anger issues, psychotic disorders, bipolar mood disorder, among other psychiatric conditions.