Mental Health Matters just finished up a series last week about making certain lifestyle changes to avoid and reduce depression. Now, we slide right into the Christmas Season, when it is common for stress and depression to peak for some people and many of us struggle to ‘just survive’ the holidays.

Many of us find ourselves in the middle of a maze of expectations, obligations, lists and social events, yet still hoping to experience some bit of the nostalgic glow of childhood innocence, wonder and traditions. Getting that glow becomes increasingly difficult when we also spend mental and emotional energy comparing our current lives to popular visions from old stories and also to current media promoted visions of picture-perfect family gatherings and decorations and presents.

Earlier this year, JAMA Current Open published a study at Michigan University, that found people who did not have a strong life purpose, aka meaning, were more likely to die early. The study focused on 7,000 Americans between ages 51 and 61. They found that having meaning in life was so powerful that it was more important toward decreasing one’s risk for death than was drinking, smoking or the positive effects of exercising regularly. Cardiologist Dr. Alan Rozanski, a professor at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai studies optimism, life purpose and physical health. He puts it like this, “The need for meaning and purpose is No. 1. It’s the deepest driver of well-being there is.”

With stress and depression so common, the holidays are a critical time to focus on personal meaning. So how can you create stronger, personal meaning and reduce stress just over the next few weeks of this holiday season? Sometimes a simply change in our perspective, that we remind ourselves of daily, can have a huge impact. Consider these suggestions and try the ones you think might work for you.

Acknowledge your feelings: If you are experiencing negative feelings, you can’t really force yourself to be happy if you are not. It doesn’t really work because your body knows. Reach out to someone you know and trust and discuss how you are feeling. Call and speak with a mental health professional if the feelings are overwhelming.

Try to be here, present in the Holiday Season 2019: Avoid yearning for the seasons of years past. Staying in the present, enjoying the people and events that are in front of you now, can help you stop stealing your own joy by comparing. The ‘perfect Christmas’ is not what we see on TV. Create and cultivate your own joy this year.

Be Open, Kind and Accept Differences: Realize that family and friends will have different opinions on a variety of topics. Spend your precious holiday energy on conversing about things that uplift you and your own well-being. If you can’t move the topic of conversation, consider politely removing yourself to another conversation.

Focus on your values: What and who is important to you? What and who are you thankful for? What activities bring you the most joy? Which do not? Celebrate and participate only in the things that make your gratitude and joy bubble up from inside. (Hint: it’s usually not things!)

Bill Mory is a Texoma-based licensed therapist in private practice. He integrates mindfulness training in working counseling clients and is a strong community-building advocate and a provider of workplace training on a variety of topics. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.