For many of us, stress and anxiety are a reality of the holiday season.

There’s stress over buying for friends and family and the pressure of pulling off the perfect family gathering. And for some, the holidays put pre-existing issues under the spotlight.

Not to mention the ongoing pandemic that still brings many health-related considerations.  It brings sadness and confusion over, yet another year where annual traditions will likely not be what they once were.

If you find yourself stressed at the thought of the holidays, take a deep breath and know you’re not alone.

So many questions that never entered our minds a few years ago are now considered daily. Do you greet granny with a big hug? Is doing things virtually the way to go?

Tips for staying calm amid chaos

Have an attitude of gratitude: Count your blessings and know this, too, shall pass. It’s common to catastrophize and engage in all-or-nothing thinking when you have overwhelming feelings. Don’t do that. It won’t help. Meditation teacher, Ashley Wray, suggests starting a gratitude journal. Start each day by listing at least three things you are grateful for. Science says this can shift your mindset.

Make new traditions: Find meaning in new traditions that will make wonderful memories. This can also apply to those who don’t feel comfortable making the holidays an in-person occasion. Rather than heading out to a busy mall to shop with your mom, do crafts or bake together – you can even do it over Zoom! Instead of volunteering in person, donate to a local food bank.

Get moving: Tap into the great Canadian outdoors by getting out and about for some physical activity. Moving is a great way to boost your mood, improve your sleep and stabilize your emotions. Yoga anyone?

Breathe: “Anytime we can focus on something other than our crazy thoughts, it helps us to get more centered in our body and more relaxed in general,” breathwork coach, Jay Bradley, says.

Try simple resonant breathing — inhale and exhale only through your nose for equal counts of four or try Box breathing — inhale through your nose for a count of four. Hold the breath for four counts, exhale for four, and hold for another four before repeating.

What about social anxiety?

It’s not about being shy or antisocial. Those with social anxiety can suffer from an intense, persistent fear of being watched and judged by others — a condition that can affect work, school, and day-to-day activities.

In many instances, social anxiety is a side-effect of coping with COVID. That’s because the increased uncertainty and rapid change combined with long periods of isolation can cause a lot of anxiety, even in those who haven’t experienced it before. Check out the blog we shared with helpful tips on dealing with post-pandemic social anxiety..

But even for those without serious anxiety issues, the holiday season often brings unwelcome guests in the form of stress and depression.

“And it's no wonder. The holidays often present a dizzying array of demands — cooking meals, shopping, baking, cleaning and entertaining, to name just a few,” say Mayo Clinic experts. “And if … (COVID-19) is spreading in your community, you may be feeling additional stress or you may be worrying about you and your loved ones' health. You may also feel stressed, sad or anxious because your holiday plans may look different during the pandemic.”

But there are ways to ensure stress and Holiday depression don’t have a seat at your table.

Acknowledge your feelings. Cry if you like and remind yourself there may be very legitimate reasons for your sadness.

Reach out. Find support, reach out to friends if you are feeling stressed or isolated. Send them a text or give them a call.

Be realistic. Put the pursuit of the perfect holidays aside. Things may look different this year, but you can still find ways to celebrate.

Set aside your differences. That may mean accepting family members and friends as they are. The holidays are not the best time to deal with grievances, and it’s possible, just like you, others also feel the effects of holiday stress and depression.

Take a breather. Find 15 minutes of “me” time when you are feeling stressed. Take a walk, listen to soothing music or read a book.

If you’re “feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless,” it’s probably time to talk to your doctor or mental health professional.

Some self-help strategies can make the holidays go smoother. Take time to understand why you might be anxious and practice ways to cope, so you are better poised to face social settings without being sidelined by your emotions.

Hopefully these tips allow you to make the best of the holiday season with your family and friends!