For lots of people, December is the month from hell: this time of year often brings crazy-scary sets of expectations and dread. We are bombarded with media images encouraging us to buy stuff and to be happy…and if we don’t, we’re failures. This is a sure set-up for depression and disappointment. But, never fear! Allow me to play your “Psychological Santa” and give you some gifts you can really use (and no, I won’t fit down your chimney, so don’t even ask).

For many of my clients, depression at this time of year comes from comparing ourselves, our gifts and our families with what other people do and give. We imagine everyone else is having more fun than we are. However, the truth is that you have no idea how happy or miserable anyone else is. If you could sit in my chair and hear how miserable most people are at this time of year, you’d stop envying other people immediately.

Stop trying to keep up with (or surpass) other people: by doing so, you’ll miss what could actually make you happy. If other people appear to be going to lots of fun parties – and you’re not – refocus on what makes you happy. This is hard, I know, but obsessing on the parties you won’t be attending will just bring you down. The same rule applies if you’ll be alone for Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwaanza and your friends or co-workers are going to St. Barts or Gstaad to be with their sickeningly happy, ridiculously wealthy family, where they’re sure to get a Ferrari in their stocking. Focus on pleasing yourself.

A big source of seasonal stress is trying to have a Martha Stewart Holiday. You know: perfect in every way (jail time optional). Every gift perfectly chosen, wrapped and paired with the only card within 50 miles that’s perfect for that special someone.

As Cher said in Moonstruck: “Snap out of it!”

My advice: Simplify. Do less. Enjoy more. Doing too much creates stress and worry, which makes it hard to enjoy anything. Do fewer things and enjoy each one more. Give yourself some alone time to unwind from events, shopping, gift-wrapping, etc. If you are partnered, schedule more “couple time” than usual: help each other relax and chill out.

Do you do the Codependent thing at this time of year? You know what I mean: do you put yourself last and everyone else first? This is a great way to make sure your Holidays are miserable and you end up resentful and pissed off at yourself and everyone else. Instead of being the perfect caretaker for your friends/family, this is a great time of year to dramatically increase your self-care and put yourself first! Be your own Santa if no one else will. Give yourself some wonderful gifts before, during and after Christmas; they can be free or expensive, it doesn’t matter. Put yourself first!

Does organized religion especially annoy you at this time of year? Are you tempted to kick over every nativity scene you see? Perhaps Jesus, Mary and the gang are not your cup of tea. Instead, find a spiritual or philosophical component of the season that means something to you. Author Marianne Williamson once stated that, as a Jew, she saw the birth of Jesus as symbolic, not literal, and that she chose to interpret it as bringing forth something new and wonderful into the world. She focused on the “birth” of a new idea/project/relationship/etc. This is but one example of taking the spiritual side of the Holidays and making it work for you, whatever your spiritual orientation.

This is a challenging time of year for everyone. No one gets out unscathed. Focus on taking good care of yourself and those you love. Remember that it’s okay to be Scrooge-like (occasionally, if you really need to), but why not aspire to be a fabulous Santa to yourself instead?

Happy Holidays from Michael!