Let’s face it, December is a tricky month. The list of commitments seems to be the longest of the year, days are shorter and colder, lines are longer, parking and traffic are challenging, school vacations, company and family gatherings – the list seems endless. And unfortunately, for many, the holidays may even trigger feelings of sadness, anxiety, depression, and grief.

As the end-of-year onslaught kicks into high gear, remember the oxygen mask rule: Take care of yourself first. Consider the following tips:*

Breathe: At the first sign of negative emotions, try to stop and take four long, slow breaths, inhaling deep into your lungs. Close your eyes and concentrate on the areas where you feel the breath most deeply. Deep breathing can slow the fight or flight response that can lead to irrational behavior and even, longer term, major health problems.

Move: Even if you can’t maintain a regular exercise routine, look for creative ways to stay active. For example, why fight for a parking spot close to the mall entrance when you can log extra steps by parking farther away?

Get outside: Cool, fresh air and sunshine do wonders to lift a mood. Take a 15-minute walk with a pet, your favorite tunes, friends, or family.

Eat and drink in moderation: Before heading out to a holiday party, eat a filling, healthy snack, such as an apple or a handful of nuts. While there, load up on salad and take tasting-size portions of rich foods. Commit to yourself not to overindulge in alcohol, which can inhibit self-control and let loose any negative feelings that may be lurking beneath the surface.

Stick to a budget: Calculate what you can afford to spend and track expenses carefully. Be creative in your cost-containment. For example, consider these healthy, tasty, and inexpensive gift ideas from EatingWell magazine.

Treat yourself: Set aside time amidst the chaos to replenish and rejuvenate – perhaps get a massage, take a restorative yoga class, get an acupuncture treatment, or meditate.

Maintain perspective: Remember that the pursuit of perfection can be hazardous to your health. Say “no,” to all but the most cherished activities and traditions, and hold true to your most important values.

If you find yourself feeling overly anxious or blue during the coming weeks, don’t ignore your feelings or try to muscle through it alone. Reach out to a trusted friend or family member, or call a professional, such as a doctor, clergy member, or therapist.

*Sources: The Mayo Clinic, the Cleveland Clinic, WebMD, Harvard Medical School, and the American Psychological Association

By Carol Swanson

Carol Swanson is a RI-based health and wellness writer.

Carol can be reached at cegoodswan@gmail.com