Dec. 12, 2011 -- They say it's the most wonderful time of the year. But for many Americans, the holiday season is the most hectic, most stressful and most demanding.
"There's the huge expectation to be jolly and cheerful and there's often a big contrast between how people are actually feeling and how they're expected to feel," said Nadine Kaslow, chief psychologist at Emory University School of Medicine. "A lot of the discomfort of the holidays lays in that discrepancy."
The financial strain of gift-giving, the memories of holidays past and the weight of wanting everything to be perfect can take its toll. But managing expectations and keeping things laid back can help stave off the holiday blues.
Don't Take On Too Much
Hosting a holiday get-together is a big job -- all the cooking and cleaning, and making sure everyone has what they need. But taking on too many responsibilities can leave you feeling too run down to enjoy the company.
"When people get tired they become irritable," said Kaslow.
Avoid missing out on the fun by sharing some of the work – it will make the day less stressful for you and give others a chance to help out.
"Make it more of a potluck," said Kaslow. "It doesn't have to be perfect; doesn't have to be extreme."
Being realistic about what you can manage and sharing the load can make the holidays more enjoyable for everyone.
"It's really important to be realistic about your goals and expectations and stick to your priorities," said Kaslow.
Keep Some Semblance of a Routine
Daily routines can go out the window during the holidays. But building in some normalcy can help your mind and body.
"Self care is really important," said Kaslow. "The extent to which you can build in some structure, like a walk, that can really help."
Overeating, overdrinking and not exercising can leave you feeling sluggish.
"It's fine to eat a little more or drink a little more, but watch the excess," said Kaslow.
Give Yourself Some Space
Visiting with loved ones is great, but everyone needs downtime.
"Christmas forces people together in ways they don't usually interact," said Dr. Charles Raison, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Arizona. "Family can be the greatest source of joy and the greatest source of misery, and often both at same time."
Just because you're all under one roof doesn't mean you can't take time for yourself -- it's not a sign that you're having a bad time.
"I bet other people in the family need some space too," said Kaslow. "It's good to create a culture where that's okay."
Don't Drink Too Much
Wine, liqueurs, spiked eggnog -- it's easy to drink too much over the holidays. But alcohol's effects can leave you feeling down.
"Alcohol a depressant," said Kaslow. "Too much of it, comb with the holiday blues can really make someone depressed."
Drink in moderation. And be sure to drink lots of water, too.
Honor Loved Ones
The holidays can be especially hard for anyone who's lost someone they love.
"It's a time when you think about the role of that family member or loved one in your life," said Kaslow.
Remembering the person who used to cut the turkey or dress up as Santa can be hard. But it can also bring the family closer.
"Find ways to honor that person," said Kaslow, whether it's a burning candle or telling stories over dinner. "Creating new traditions is good. But I also think it's just as important to find some way to keep them there."