It’s that magical time of year when the holiday season is upon us, and once again we find ourselves balancing between our work, decorating the house, planning the traditional Holiday feasts, scheduling time with your family and friends, and maybe even attending a party or two.

There comes a time, in between the parties, the family gatherings and the endless shopping crowds, the cheer of the holidays can quickly leave our rosy cheeks and send us into a downward exhausted, depressive spiral. How do you keep your stress and depression from affecting not only your mood, but the mood of others around you? And how can you chase away depression and keep the joy in the holidays and stop them from turning into yet another year of an endless blur or over consumption of food, family, and drained bank account?

So many of us have an idealized version of what the holidays should be like, instead of facing the reality of what they really are. No one has an ideal, picture-perfect holiday. If you begin the season by setting realistic expectations up front, you won’t be disappointed that your family gathering devolves into another eating frenzy, or Uncle Henry drinking too much, when it has happened every year you get together.

This year, plan on being a “Master Observer”. Observe what goes on without letting if affect you emotionally. Take a step back and see if you can find some humor in the family dynamics to help get you through the day.

Feeling overwhelmed by too much to do and too little time to do it all in? Start by prioritizing and writing down the events and visits you want to do. Then, schedule it all out right now in your calendar or write it out in a note book or planner, then stick to it.

Too many people get into trouble accepting last-minute invitations, or by trying to accommodate a last-minute visit with someone they hadn’t planned on seeing. All of this can lead us down that slippery slope of total exhaustion and leaves us open to holiday stress and depression.

How do you know you’ve reached your “breaking point”? It’s the point where you feel if one more thing is added to the “To Do” list, or if something else goes wrong, you will simply breakdown and just lock yourself up in the bedroom until the new year. Know your breaking point, and when you’re feeling stressed and coming close to it.

The moment you feel overwhelmed, stop, find a quiet spot, take a deep breath and exhale slowly. Ask yourself “which item or event I can let go of right now”, then decide to not do it. Make a mental note of the combination of tasks and events that brought you to your “breaking point” and make sure you avoid these next year.

While rushing around the holidays, we often put ourselves last on our “To Do” list. We also feel guilty when we indulge in things we wouldn’t ordinarily indulge in, such as, accepting that second piece of pie or one more helping of turkey.  Give yourself a break this season, forgive your transgressions, and be kind to yourself.

That means taking some time out for yourself and your needs, even if it’s just a few minutes of solitude in the morning or before you go to bed that you can relax, watch a holiday movie or catch up on some reading, and just enjoy your own company.

It also means not beating yourself up if you step off your diet or can’t get to the gym for a few days. Allow yourself to enjoy being out of your normal routine knowing you will get back to it after the holidays.

Part of the reason we sometimes feel overwhelmed and depressed around the holidays is that we simply attempt to do too much on our own. Ask for help from your spouse, significant other, children, friends or family when you need it, and be direct and honest with your requests.

Don’t rely on them to read your mind, and don’t get stressed if they are not picking up on what needs to be done. If you decorate the tree every year, but this year you find that you still don’t have it done, or if you have several gifts left to wrap, just ask them to help you. If there are several things to be done, then make a list and divide it up so everyone can chip in.

In an ideal world, we’d be connected to everyone in the family and everyone would be connected to us. But in the real world, we get into disagreements or sometimes full-fledged arguments with others we love and care about, or ex-partners we need to compromise with.

In the spirit of the holiday season, be willing to give something that is priceless. Find it in your heart and make the choice to temporarily be full of compassion and forgiveness to those in your life you feel have wronged you in some way. Putting your family feud on hold allows you to find your higher self and remember the reason for the season.

All too often we get caught up in the shopping, the endless sales, the “need” to make sure we buy something for everyone, and we lose sight of things that really matter: our friendships, our family, our spirituality, our fellow man or woman who may be less fortunate than us. Especially this year when there are several who are experiencing tough economic times, volunteer at a food bank, do something additional for your church, or adopt a family in need this season. You’d be surprised at how much a difference such giving can help and how good it can make you feel.

Now that you have learned the ways to keep the joy in your holiday season. Take that deep breath, fill your calendar with things you love to do and choose to find all the blessings the season has to offer. Merry Christmas!