THURSDAY, Nov. 22 (HealthDay News) -- From crowded shopping malls to unpaid bills to an onslaught of out-of-town guests, the holidays can cause overwhelming stress. One way to remain calm is to manage unrealistic expectations, experts advise.

"Overly high expectations for the holidays -- be it around the food, the gifts or the family relationships -- can trigger anxiety and even depression," said Dr. Mallay Occhiogrosso, a psychiatrist at the Payne Whitney Clinic at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City, in a medical center news release. "Prioritizing self-care is important, as well as dialing down those unrealistic 'Hallmark holiday' fantasies."

Another expert agrees: "During the holidays, our lives become even more stressful as we try to juggle our usual responsibilities with extra holiday preparation and complicated family dynamics," said Dr. Maria Oquendo, a psychiatrist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center.

The experts noted there are several other ways to avoid stress during the holidays, including:

  • Find support.People facing difficult family situations should set aside time to spend with their friends. Those who feel isolated or alone should take advantage of resources in their community or volunteer their time at a local charity.
  • Get some alone time.Even a 15-minute break can help you relax and relieve stress. Taking a brisk walk or getting some exercise can significantly improve your mood.
  • Set limits.You can't do everything, so do only what you enjoy. Allow friends and family members to share their ideas about what they would like to do during the holidays.
  • Reduce shopping stress.Set a budget and do not spend more than you intend. Don't let guilt, competitiveness or perfectionism send you on more shopping excursions than you would like.
  • Enlist help.Let your friends and family contribute to the holiday preparations.
  • Be realistic.Don't set your holiday expectations too high. Allow your loved ones to be themselves and set any conflicts aside for another time.
  • Reflect on the past.Honor and remember loved ones who have passed away.
  • Be organized.Plan meals, shopping lists and other activities in advance so you have more time to enjoy the holidays.
  • Remember what's important.Spend some time focusing on family, religious beliefs or traditions.

Anyone who still feels depressed during the holidays should consider talking to a mental-health professional, the experts noted.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides more holiday health tips.