For many, the holidays aren't as advertised in Christmas songs – instead, the season brings a time of anxiety, stress and depression. With the pressures of finding great gifts for loved ones, spending quality time with family and creating a celebratory atmosphere, some feel the holidays are, in fact, the most stressful time of the year. “We certainly have cultural norms that the holiday season should be quiet, restful and peaceful,” said Dr. Keith Dobson, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Calgary whose research specialization is depression. “If you think about the songs, they focus on family dynamics, gifts for children and meeting expectations.” According to Dobson, Christmas-related anxiety can arise from the unrealistic ideals often associated with the holiday. “It’s usually expectations coupled with concerns about the ability to meet those expectations,” he said. “So, anxiety about whether the expectations can be met, or knowing they can’t. “[For example], there may be a gift you’d like to purchase for somebody, but because of your financial situation, you can’t.” Sandra Joe, the support services manager with North Rocky View Community Links (NRVCL) and a counsellor with 25 years of experience, said the organization accommodates people who may be experiencing heightened stress or pressure during the holiday season. “We always try to be solution-focused here, and help them find solutions – [something] they can do to feel better,” she said. "Maybe they can volunteer, maybe they can take a group or go to counselling.” For those who would like to talk to someone, Joe said, NRVCL has a drop-in clinic available in Airdrie until Dec. 24 at 11:30 a.m. The clinic will be closed the following week, she added, but will reopen Jan. 2. Payment for sessions is on a sliding scale. “What we focus on here is changing mindset,” Joe said. “It’s really about people being preventative. And one thing we really focus on, too, is being mindful of what’s around you, and enjoying the beauty of the little things. Going for a walk, going to Church services, being a part of something.” Dobson added stress and anxiety tend to manifest themselves in the lead up to Christmas, whereas disappointment or depression typically magnify after the holiday. “Anxiety is mostly associated with worry, and worry is always future-oriented,” he said. “Depression and anger are typically past-oriented…it’s more associated with disappointment, rumination or unhappiness about something that happened or didn’t happen.” While it may not be possible to have a completely stress-free holiday season, Dobson recommended residents pay more attention to their Christmas-related expectations, to keep them realistic. “Trying to manage your expectations and thinking about what you can control – and what’s maybe out of your control – can be helpful,” he said. “If they are [unrealistic], you’re going to need to reduce your expectations, and maybe turn them from expectations into hopes.” For those in need of immediate assistance, the Calgary Distress Centre's Crisis Line is available 24 hours a day at 403-266-HELP (4357).