Most wonderful time of the year… or is it?

The smell of pine, ice skating, hot chocolate, and Christmas music as frantic shoppers shop for last minute gifts because it turns out the in-laws are coming to town alongside Santa. It’s the side of the holiday season that the media doesn’t portray; the planning, the family, and the overall stress that comes alongside the snow.

Commercialization of the holiday season has distorted the true message behind the celebrations: letting your loved ones know how much you care and appreciate them. Now it is a race to hold the perfect party, give the perfect gifts, and overall be happier than everyone else. A lot of pressure for a time of the year that should be stress free.

Christmas is arguably the most hyped up holiday. The music starts in November and most stores start putting up decorations as early as October. As soon as the first frost hits everything is Santa Claus and reindeer. Sadly, the expectations tend to fizzle out when the holiday celebrations begin.

Everything is overplayed and advertised so much that an idea of the perfect way to spend the holiday season are burned into people’s heads. It puts too much pressure on someone for it all to go exactly as planned.

That especially goes for buying gifts. Everyone wants to give the perfect present, the one that says, “I get you!” As a college student, paying for presents for all my loved ones is pricey. Meaning I either spend more than I really want to, or I buy cheap gifts that are far from the perfect present I’d envisioned.

Exchanging such gifts can be equally as stressful. The process, not to mention the cost, of planning a party, requires more time and attention than most people have to give amidst their everyday lives. Schedules never seem to match up. Planning has to begin months in advance to accommodate to everyone’s needs, even though the holiday seems to be so routine.

Preparing the meals and space hardly ever seem worth it when faced with clean up. If you’re lucky, you just attend parties rather than host, but even that can be stressful. Trying to fit time for friends and family in between work and school can be hard enough as is, and the holidays are a breeding ground for get-togethers. Everyone and their neighbor wants to make time for one another. Sweet, but overwhelming.

While movies may like to use the idea of all extended family coming in for the holidays as a joke, most families see that as a reality. Having a ton of people crammed into one home, especially when some of the less pleasant relatives arrive, can add to stress levels.

Dinner table conversations can go sour quickly with even the smallest mention of politics. If, by some miracle, arguing doesn’t break out, then those old relatives, who only come to family events once in a blue moon, start questioning everyone about what’s going on in their lives. And, while it doesn’t sound like the end of the world, these relatives tend to be the ones that disapprove of everything. There is such a thing as too much family time.

For those with divorced parents or parents that simply don’t get along, the holidays are tense. Trying to bounce back and forth between households to see both sides of the family all during the holidays is hard, even switching off every other year can be tiring.

On the flipside, being alone on the holidays can be equally detrimental to someone’s mental health. Most businesses or restaurants are closed Christmas. Anyone looking to spend time with others, even strangers, can have a hard time finding solace.

However being conscious of mental health doesn’t just mean being aware when someone we care about is stressed; it also includes being mindful of mental disorders that are affected by the holiday season, such as seasonal depression (SAD).

The Mayo Clinic defines SAD as a type of depression influenced by the changing of the seasons, most often occurring during the autumn and winter months. Those dealing with the disorder cope with constant tiredness, feelings of hopelessness, and difficulty concentrating. Pair that with gift budgeting, planning out a party, or dealing with annoying family members, and that can become a recipe for disaster.

So, this holiday season keep in mind that not everyone is as happy as the movies and music may make it seem. Check in on loved ones, it lets them know that they’re appreciated; offer to help out when things seem particularly stressful, the gesture means more than words could ever say.

But don’t just focus on easing other people’s stress. Self-care is equally as important. Take a day, or two, over the holiday season to focus on yourself. Take a bath, watch your favorite holiday movie, bake cookies, or anything else that makes you happy. The holiday’s really can be the most wonderful time of the year, you just have to know how to handle it.