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Tips on how to be less stressed out during the holiday season

Mental health expert offers practical steps to ward off the winter blues.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — For some people, the holidays can be the most stressful time of year.

A survey by the American Psychological Association found that 38 percent of people believed their stress levels went up during the holiday season.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner at Monarch, Desiree Matthews, told WCNC, "We have these thoughts about what a perfect holiday looks like when we were kids. We have that fantasy of all the gifts that we're opening. It's perfectly wrapped. And many of us, as adults, we can't live up to that."

She said the pressure to give an expensive gift or make a perfect meal can cause undue stress.

Matthews said, "When we're not getting enough sleep, we're not eating correctly, we're not getting enough exercise, activity. All of this can lead to a perfect storm, where we may be prone to more physical illness, and more anxiety, more blues, and even depression."

Matthews offered some tips to try and keep your well-being in check.

The first involves taking care of the three pillars, including exercise, a well-balanced diet, and restorative sleep.

"It’s OK to treat yourself, but completely derailing your usual diet is probably not the best idea," Matthews said. "Avoiding too much sugar, too much fat, and really, in some cases, staying away from alcohol, or at least minimizing it, because that can also lead to problems with sleep and excess calories that maybe we don’t need."

Matthews said managing expectations is also helpful.

"It's not always going to be picture perfect as we see on social media and advertisements, and that's ok," Matthews said. "Make the holiday season about what you want it to be, not what other people are saying it should be."

She added it's important to carve out time for yourself.

"Just like you would during any time of the year, ground yourself in activities that are routine," said Matthews. "Like reading a great book, snuggling with your cat or dog, or just going outside and enjoying some fresh air and sunshine."

Matthews said it's healthy to reach out to loved ones or someone from your community when necessary.

"When stress gets overwhelming, it could lead us to withdraw from our daily activities. So it’s really important to recognize that sometimes we all get blue, said Matthews. 

And she says it's important to carve out time for yourself.

"Just like you would during any time of the year. ground yourself in activities that are routine," said Matthews.

Matthews says it's important to recognize we all have negative emotions at times. But when those emotions are persistent or cause you to neglect daily self-care, like showering or eating, it might be a sign to reach out to a professional.

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