By SARA McCLARIE and SUNEE ZRNO

The holidays can be joyous and fun-filled times with family and friends, but they also tend to be a stressful time of year. The pressure of attending multiple holiday events, traveling, and shopping can put a strain on all of us. For those who have lost a friend or family member, the holidays may bring up feelings of loss and sadness.

No matter how much we look forward to the holidays, they can be tough on anyone; just realizing that this is a normal feeling is helpful in managing your wellness. It is perfectly OK, and even healthy, to express feelings of sadness when remembering someone who has passed. Acknowledge your feelings and share memories of that loved one; just let yourself feel the emotions you are feeling.

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Some of us are lucky to have not experienced loss, but the holidays can still be a difficult time. The stress of planning and orchestrating a holiday event or meal can be enough to wreck the excitement and joy of the holidays for many. Here are some ways to cope with the stress that accompanies the holidays.

Plan Ahead: Make lists for the grocery store and gifts far in advance. By setting aside specific days and times for shopping, preparing, crafting, etc., you can ease the stress caused by the last minute runs to the store.

Practice Acts of Kindness: Helping others during the holidays provides opportunities to be selfless and provide for others. Not only is helping others an important part of our community, but it also allows you to experience the mood boost that accompanies giving freely. Many local organizations have “giving trees” where those in need have their Christmas wish list is hanging on an ornament. Enlist your family in helping out another family and create a new tradition.

Be Realistic: The holidays don’t have to be perfect. Enjoy them for what they are and don’t create an added pressure of having the perfect holiday. If old traditions have run their course, let go and create new traditions to enjoy the moment with loved ones.

It’s OK to Say No: The holiday season often means multiple invitations to parties and celebrations and other commitments. Think ahead of what’s realistic within your already busy schedule and learn to say no. It will feel great to take some control over your schedule and free up some time in this busy season.

Pretend to Be a Kid Again: What traditions or activities did you love as a child? Re-create those traditions and share with friends or family.

Laugh: Laughter is a great form of stress release. When you laugh, it feels good, and you lighten your load mentally. Let a little laughter help your mood and spirit.

Practice Moderation: Overeating can make us feel sluggish and exhausted, and excessive alcohol can have many negative consequences including guilt and anger, both of which can exacerbate stress. With all that is going on during the holidays, it’s even more important to maintain good physical and mental health. It is OK to partake in holiday festivities, but keep things in check and don’t overdo it. Also, make sure to get plenty of sleep and exercise.

Use “Time-Outs” When Needed: If you are feeling overwhelmed or stressed, take a time-out and go for a walk or reading. Anticipate that there may be stressful situations, and give yourself permission to walk away and have some time alone.

Reach Out: If you feel lonely or isolated during the holidays, you are not alone. Seek support from friends, family, or professionals. Remember loneliness is not the same as being alone. One of your greatest gifts to yourself is recognizing the need for help. Be honest with the people you love and tell them you need support.

~ Sara McClarie is the outreach facilitator for The Tahoe Truckee Suicide Prevention Task Force. Sunee Zrno, LMFT, is the bereavement coordinator at Tahoe Forest Hospital.

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