The holidays can be a fun time. However, the season can also bring stress and depression. With COVID still spreading in our country and communities, you may be feeling additional stress, or you may be worrying about your own health as well as your loved ones’. You may feel sad, anxious and stressed because your holiday may be different than it has ever been.

Here are some tips that come from the Mayo Clinic and several extension sources that can help you minimize stress and hopefully help you cope:

• Recognize your feelings. If you have lost a loved one through death or have loved ones you can’t be with for any reason this Christmas, realize that this can be normal to grieve and feel sadness. It is OK to cry and it is also OK to express your feelings. You can’t make yourself be happy just because it is the holidays.

• Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, look to churches and other community groups. There are many websites that have online support groups. There are many social media site and virtual events that you can take part off. They can offer you support and companionship as well.

• It may also be helpful to talk to friends, family members and others about your concerns. Try reaching out with emails, texts or video chat with someone. Also, call your friends and family. So often we just communicate through texts and emails, but there is no better way to help you or someone feel better than to just give them a call. It shows that you care, and it can help both you and the person you call as well.

• Volunteering your time or doing something to help others is also a good way to help lift your spirits and make new friends. Consider dropping off a meal and dessert at a friend’s home during the holidays.

• Be rational. There is no perfect holiday and some of the best holiday experiences are those that are unplanned and may not be what you are used to. As families change and grow and are no longer here, rituals often change as well. Choose to hold on to a few and be opened to create new ones. If you can’t celebrate with your family this year, find new ways to celebrate such as sharing pictures or videos. You might enjoy a virtual celebration. Even though your holiday plans may be different, you can always find ways to celebrate.

• Set aside differences. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they do not live up to how you think they should be. Set aside grievances. Be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes wrong. Chances are they have holiday stress and depression as well.

• Stick to a budget. Before you buy gifts or shop for food, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to your budget. Don’t try to buy happiness with a lot of gifts.

• You could donate to a charity in someone’s name. Make homemade gifts. Begin a family gift exchange. Maybe don’t exchange gifts. Replace it with taking time to reflect on the real meaning of Christmas.

• Plan ahead. Set aside time to plan. Set aside a day for shopping, baking, connecting with friends. Consider shopping online. Plan your menu. Include time for cleaning and clean up.

• Learn to say no. Saying yes when you should have said no can cause resentment. Friends and family can understand if you can’t participate in things. If you can’t say no, try to remove something else from your plans.

• Take care of your health. Eat healthy, get plenty of sleep, plan to exercise daily, be aware of things that causes you stress and find ways to reduce it. Try meditating, deep breathing exercises and/or yoga.

• Take time for yourself. Find something you enjoy and take a break. It doesn’t have to be long or it could be something you could do an entire evening such as taking a walk, taking a nap, watching Christmas movies, listening to music or reading a book.

• Seek help. If you have tried everything and you continually find yourself anxious, depressed, unable to sleep, plagued with physical complaints or unable to do normal routines, this may be the time to talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. There are many good ones in the area, and many are low cost.

Don’t let the holidays be something you dread. Take action to prevent the depression and stress that can occur. Learn what things during the holiday can trigger these feelings. With a little thought, planning and positive thinking you can find your joy and peace throughout the holidays.

Kathy Smith is a Texas A&M AgriLife extension agent in Parker County.

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