STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, but the holidays can be stressful for everybody.
For many people, even typically enjoyable activities like holiday gatherings, children’s performances, baking, decorating, travel planning and gift wrapping can feel overwhelming.
A poll by the American Psychological Association found that nearly 25 percent of Americans reported “extreme stress” during the holiday season. The majority of that stress was attributed to feelings of lack of time and lack of money.
Making a list is a good way to start managing feelings of being overwhelmed, according to Mind Springs Health Operations Manager Tom Gangel.
“Once you feel like you have too much to do, that’s the time to start writing it down,” Gangel said.
Get rid of the items you don’t have to do, he said, and then start checking things off.
When it comes to money, Gangel recommends doing your best to stick to your budget and remembering that everyone else probably has a budget, too.
“Lots of people get a little stressed out because they spend too much money around this time,” Gangel said.
Mental health experts also recommend focusing on self-care and avoiding too many commitments.
Here are some more tips to help you through the holidays:
Stick to a routine
One of the best ways to avoid additional holiday stress is to do what you normally do, whether it’s going to work, heading to the gym, walking the dog or reading a book.
“As best as you can, you go ahead and stick to your normal routines,” Gangel said. “Just do the things that you typically do.”
No matter how busy you get, make sure that you continue to move your body, drink plenty of water and get good sleep every night.
Take time each day to regroup, and remember that saying “no” to an obligation might mean saying “yes” to your health.
Gangel recommends learning to say “no” and taking some time out for yourself.
“A couple times a day, take three minutes to just deep breathe,” he said. “The more you do it, the better you’re going to feel.”
Accept how you feel
Stop to check in with yourself and make an effort to embrace your feelings. Simply acknowledging a feeling is a step in the right direction.
“The holidays don’t always have to be a happy time,” Gangel said. “For many of us, this is when we think about people we’ve lost.”
It’s OK to set aside a little time to cry, he said, and if you’re struggling with a loss, it’s normal to think about how this Christmas will be different from the last one.
Whether it’s a poorly wrapped present or an over-baked pie, make the best out of small mistakes and avoid putting too much pressure on yourself.
The holidays “don’t have to be perfect,” Gangel said. “They just have to be OK.”
Do your best to be realistic and set reasonable exceptions for yourself, he said.
Stress from the holidays can aggravate feelings of depression, particularly for those who do not have strong social networks or who are grieving the recent loss of a loved one.
If you experience mild seasonal depression, consider ways to connect with others.
“If you’re someone who really gets recharged by hanging out with people, make time for social supports and gather your friends,” Gangel said.
Living in a town that gets so much snow each year also contributes to cases of seasonal affective disorder. If you know that’s a problem for you, be sure to get in some sunlight or artificial sunlight each day, he said.
Ask for help
If you’re really struggling, it’s time to ask for help.
“The best thing to do is realize even though it’s the holiday season, the professionals in mental health in Routt County, they’re available,” Gangel said. “If you really need professional help, go ahead and seek it out. You don’t have to wait until after the holidays.”
If you or somebody you know is in crisis, Gangel recommends calling the Colorado Crisis line at 844-493-8255, which has options to talk or text to a peer or professional.
It’s also important to remember that you’ve made it through the holidays before, and you will again, he said.