By Evelyn Hill, Senior Divisional Director, The Jason Foundation, Inc

Depressive disorders don’t take holidays. Stress management can be key to maintaining mental health.

It is no secret that the holiday season can be a stressful time. With family gatherings, office parties, gift exchanges, and other demands on our time and attention, the final month of the year can be a trying time for even the most optimistic and enthusiastic people.

For individuals who suffer from or are at risk for depression, though, the impact of holiday stresses and pressures can be much more severe than the momentary frustrations that almost everyone experiences.

For example, some of the common triggers for the onset of a depressive episode, such as feeling overwhelmed, experiencing a sense of isolation or deprivation, and having personal conflicts, are also common holiday experiences.

For individuals who are at risk for depression, here are five simple tips that can help keep triggers at bay during the holiday season:

  1. Stay Organized – Considerable holiday stress is related to feeling overwhelmed or out of time. Planning ahead can help eliminate or ease some of this pressure.
  1. Learn to Say No – You do not have to accept every invitation that comes your way. Giving yourself time to relax and decompress during the holidays is more important than yet another party.
  1. Set Realistic Expectations – There is no such thing as a “perfect holiday,” and trying to create one is an invitation to disappointment. On the other side of the coin, don’t allow dread to destroy your ability to enjoy the season.
  1. Take Care of Yourself – Sugary and high-fat foods, which are staples during the holidays, can drain your energy and increase your risk getting sick. Enjoy a sweet here and there, but do not abandon your healthy diet. Also, make sure that you are getting some exercise and enough sleep.
  1. Get Help When You Need It – The holidays are definitely not the time to go it alone. From an extra set of hands in the kitchen to the therapeutic insights of a professional counselor, ask for help when you need it.

Please note: These tips can help to reduce the risk of a depressive episode, but they are by no means a substitute for effective professional help. Depression is a serious illness that impacts more than 15 million adults and more than 2.5 million adolescents in the United States.

Contrary to a prevalent myth, suicide does not peak during the holiday season. However, depressed individuals are hardly immune from either depressive episodes or suicidal ideation during this time. If you or someone you love is struggling with depression and/or thinking about suicide, get help now. The National Suicide Hotline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255), is a free resource that is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for anyone who is in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.