THE end of the year is looming, and with it the crowded shopping centers, visits from long-lost relatives, and pressure of preparing party and holiday meals. These can all summon one universal reaction: stress.

The holidays may be the season of love and celebration, but festivities can be overwhelming.

Dr Mallay Occhiogrosso, a US psychiatrist at the Payne Whitney Clinic at Weill Cornell Medical Centre, says overly high expectations for the holidays — be it around food, gifts, or family relationships — can trigger anxiety and even depression.

"Prioritising self-care is important, as well as dialing down those unrealistic ‘hallmark holiday’ fantasies," he says

Dr Maria Oquendo, a psychiatrist at Columbia University Medical Centre says during the holidays, lives can become even more stressful as people try to juggle their usual responsibilities with extra preparation and complicated family dynamics.

Occhiogrosso and Oquendo have some tips to keep your stress levels to a minimum this year:

• Take a 15 minute break

Fifteen minutes "alone time" may be just what you need to refresh. Try taking a brisk walk around the block. Exercise is a great stress reliever; a daily dose of sunlight can also dramatically improve your mood.

• Prioritise your time

Understand that you can’t do everything, so choose things you can accomplish and enjoy. Get input from your family and friends about what it is they would really enjoy doing this holiday.

• Shop without anxiety

Remember that it’s the thought that counts. Don’t let competitiveness, guilt and perfectionism send you on too many shopping trips. Create a holiday shopping budget and stick to it, so the bills don’t linger after the tinsel is gone.

• Ask for help

Getting your family and friends involved in holiday preparations may alleviate the stress of doing it all on your own.

• Set realistic expectations

Sometimes, expectations for family get-togethers are too high and result in disappointment and frustration. Accept family members and friends as they are; set aside grievances for a more appropriate time.

• Celebrate the memories of loved ones no longer here

Holidays can also be stressful as you confront the memories of those who have passed. This is a normal part of the holiday experience and should be openly discussed and celebrated.

• Plan ahead

You will have more time to spend doing things that you really want to do if you set aside specific days for shopping, cooking and visiting friends. You may want to plan your menus in advance, and make one big shopping trip.

• Put it all in perspective

Think about what the holiday really means to you and your family: time together, religious observance, reflection on your life and future goals — let these aspects of the holidays keep things in perspective.

• If your depressed mood lingers, consider getting input from a mental health professional

Rates of anxiety and depression peak during the holidays; you don’t have to suffer unnecessarily. Help is available.

• Seek out emotional support

If you have family difficulties, plan some time with friends. If you feel isolated, seek community or religious support. If you feel lonely, consider volunteering your time at an organisation you support. Remember that doing less may help you to enjoy the season more, and that is the best stress reliever of all.