Dr. Judith Akin, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, says for most people, holiday time does not reflect a Hallmark card image: a tastefully decorated house filled with happy people exchanging perfect gifts and enjoying a wonderful meal while a beautiful snowfall settles gently outside.
"This is a time of year where individuals can be more aware of sadness," Akin said in a statement. "We can be stressed because we are away from our families; we can be stressed because we are with our families; we can be aware of money problems."
For those celebrating with family, Akin recommends:
-- Don't try to do too much; strive to keep expectations in balance.
-- Don't try to match some ideal of the "perfect" holiday. Look for happiness in what you are able to do and keep your expectations realistic.
-- At gatherings, try to find common ground with those with whom you might disagree and avoid conversation topics of obvious conflict.
-- Don't overspend on gifts or make gift-giving the centerpiece of the celebration. Be sensitive that some people may be facing financial challenges.
For those celebrating alone, Akin suggests to:
-- Fix a special meal or plan ahead and get some special takeout.
-- Enjoy non-traditional holiday fun: Go for a long walk, go to the movies, spend the day on an art or house project that you can enjoy.
-- Let co-workers and friends know that you are alone; often an extra person at a holiday gathering can make it more fun for everybody.
-- Check online for local agencies that need help and give part of your day to help others.
-- Even if you can't be there in person, connect with family and friends by phone, email or text and pass along love and good wishes.