From Thanksgiving until the ball drops on New Year’s Eve, the holiday season can be a whirlwind of excitement and celebration. It can also create feelings of stress, anxiety and depression for many people. It’s easy to get overwhelmed if you feel like you have too many things to do. You may also be more keenly aware during the holidays of missing loved ones you’ve lost through divorce or death.

“It’s very common for feelings of anxiety and depression to get worse around the holidays,” said Julie Platt, M.D., a family medicine physician at Geisinger Family Practice in Kingston. “The commercialism, the heightened expectations and constant busyness can be overwhelming. It’s essential to have a strategy to help yourself decompress once in a while.”

If you’re starting to feel stressed or sad during the holidays, the following tips may help:

  • Set realistic expectations: Many people feel pressured to have the perfect holiday: the holiday party that everyone’s talking about, the perfect gift or the best-behaved children. Keep in mind that if something can go wrong, it probably will. Set realistic expectations for yourself and your family – even the “bad” experiences during the holidays can become a fun memory.
  • Give back, and give thanks: Elderly relatives, friends who have experienced a recent death of a loved one, and people who don’t have a family of their own need extra help during the holidays. Giving back by volunteering your time gives you a different perspective on the holidays that can help your own mood and well-being.
  • Don’t overschedule: Know when to say “no” to an invitation. Overscheduling your days during the holidays is one of the surest ways to increase your anxiety. If you must decline an invitation, find another way to include that person in your holiday plans or reschedule for some time after the New Year.
  • Make a list and check it twice: Writing down your to-do list can help reduce your anxiety and stress. It helps to keep your mind from racing to keep track of the little details you need to remember. You’ll also get a feeling of accomplishment every time you check off an item.
  • Stick to a budget: Overspending is another major source of holiday anxiety and depression. Before the holidays, decide together with family members and friends on a gift-giving budget, and stick to it.
  • Watch your alcohol consumption: Alcohol makes you feel less stressed in the moment, but it has the opposite effect in the long run. Alcohol is a depressant, which means it depresses the activity in your central nervous system, leading to feelings of anxiety and depression.

Know when to ask for help

“Take time during the holidays to be mindful of your mood,” said Dr. Platt. “If you’re experiencing signs of depression and anxiety, it’s important that you talk to your doctor before things go from bad to worse.”

If you’re feeling depressed, you’ll typically feel sad and discouraged, you may sleep and eat more or less than usual, find it difficult to concentrate and you may lose interest in things that once brought you pleasure. Anxiety can bring feelings of fear, heart palpitations, a sense of losing control, numbness and tingling in your extremities and a fear of dying. If you experience new or worsening symptoms of depression or anxiety around the holidays, it’s time to call your doctor.

“There’s no shame in asking for help around the holidays,” said Dr. Platt. “Doctors can help you identify the resources, such as cognitive behavioral therapy or medications, that can reduce your symptoms and get you back on track.”