It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Or is it?

As Christmas looms, only a month away — many people report feelings of increased stress, dread, and loneliness. For some its the invasion of relatives that they would otherwise never see. For others, it’s the isolation of having no one to spend the holidays with. According to the American Psychological Association, 38% of people feel increased stress, and 26% feel sad and lonely during the holidays. However, the key to surviving the holidays with your mental health intact is actually quite simple: lower your expectations, be quick to forgive, and slow things down.

That might be easier said than done. To make things a bit easier, here are 5 strategies you can use to ward off that blue Christmas that you’ve been dreading:

1: Quit comparing

When you constantly try to measure yourself against other people, you set yourself up for disappointment. This is true all year ’round but especially comes into play during the holiday season. In the rare case this kind of comparison can spur us on to be better people — but usually, it just leaves us feeling inadequate and sad. This is intensified through social media and consumer advertising. These platforms trick us into thinking there is some kind of “perfect” holiday, and without certain products, we won’t get to experience it. This can cause us to get caught up in an endless cycle of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’.

One way to help you get out of the habit of comparing yourself is to limit your exposure to social media and T.V. advertising. This can be hard to do, try setting time limits or forcing yourself to do another activity before hopping on facebook. Another way to focus on whats good in your life is to create a list — as often as you need to — of things you’re thankful for or the things that are going well in your life.

2: Have realistic expectations of your family

Christmas is known as a ‘time for family’. However, this notion is often glorified.

Many modern families live far apart and these idealized expectations can put further stress on already strained relationships. If you already don’t see your family often, it can be difficult to adjust to spending significant amounts of time together, often cramped into small spaces.

To help with this, lower your expectations. This may seem like a negative approach, but it will actually contribute to a more positive holiday experience. If you don’t see your extended family a lot, don’t expect to be best friends for the holidays. By being realistic you allow your family to just be themselves, instead of requiring them to live up to your expectations. This is help avoid disappointments, arguments, and may even help to heal rifts in your family.

3: Do good

For those without family close enough to visit, or for those suffering from a loss, Christmas can be a time of isolation. Instead of sitting at home, inject yourself into your community. The holidays are an especially busy time for charitable organizations, and there are many ways that you can get involved.

Through volunteer work, you can reduce your loneliness by spending time with people you wouldn’t normally. Additionally, by spending your time volunteering you will gain purpose during the holidays, and shift your focus from yourself to helping and serving other people.

4: Take a timeout

When you notice your stress levels starting to rise — tap out. Maybe you need to take a walk, listen to some music, or brew yourself some tea. Whatever it is, make sure it’s something you enjoy. This can be difficult to do, especially if you have small children to look after, or guests to entertain. In cases like that, you should pre-plan pockets of nothing. Maybe coordinate with someone to watch your kids for an hour, or maybe you notify the people staying with you that you have planned some ‘free-time’ where everyone can do as they please.

It is important that you put your well-being high up on the priority list. If going to ‘just one more’ Christmas party is going to tip you over the edge — don’t do it. Saying no can be really hard, but what’s even harder is pushing beyond your limits to appease others. If you find saying no especially difficult, you could write yourself a script to fall back on, something like: “That sounds really fun! However, I’m not quite feeling 100% and would like to call it an early night.”

5: Don’t over-do it

This is the hardest one for food lovers. Christmas is a time for family — but it’s also a time for food! With the abundance of goodies available everywhere you go, it can be tempting to over-indulge, especially if you’re at a party you don’t want to be at, or if you’re feeling down and stressed. In the moment it feels great to eat and drink away your sorrows, but often a side-effect of this behaviour is feeling unwell, or guilty. Additionally, remember that alcohol is a depressant and can amplify your already negative feelings. Do enjoy your food and drink, but don’t use it as a coping mechanism. To boost your spirits, try doing some exercise! Not only will it make you feel better, it will make those Christmas treats taste even better!

Preparing yourself for the holiday season it one of the best ways to help it go smoothly. The other way is to stop expecting a perfect “just-like-in-the-movies” Christmas celebration. Remember to take it easy on yourself, and remember that all you can do is your best. Happy holidays!