By Josie Sanchez

Mount Sopris glows with the softness of snow. The town is enveloped in whiteness, and iridescent lights illuminate Main Street at night. Laughter erupts as loved ones come together in celebration. Homes are adorned with Christmas trees, wreaths and green and red decor. There is nothing but love and carefree energy in the air. 

This is how people tend to think of the holiday season. 

Yet, for some, the holidays are not so jolly. 

In a survey conducted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), America’s largest nonprofit dedicated to mental health, 57% of people experienced “unrealistic expectations” placed on them by the holidays. 

Of the same group surveyed, 63% experienced the feeling of “too much pressure” and 55% recalled past moments in which they felt happier. 

Brian Madrigal, a college student at Colorado Mountain College, understands why people may have these feelings during the holidays. He says, “As a college student, I have to juggle finals, homework, my job, relatives and friends. Sometimes it feels like I can’t catch a break. It’s like I have to be a good student, employee, son and all these other things — all at once! It definitely gets to be overwhelming.” 

Diana Montoya, a senior at Roaring Fork High School, agrees. She adds “I feel like we underestimate the stress that the holidays put on people. I try to stay relaxed but I still find myself feeling more irritated during the holidays. I love my family and being together but sometimes I just want time to be myself away from all the noise.”

Like Madrigal and Montoya, many find themselves feeling stressed out during the holidays. According to Colorado Primary Healthcare, based in Denver, stress can have a range of effects on a person’s health. 

When a person is stressed, the body utilizes their sympathetic nervous system. This increases a person’s heartbeat and essentially puts them in “fight or flight” mode. 

Momentary stress doesn’t have long-lasting effects, but if a person is constantly under duress it can lead to health complications including depression, anxiety, cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure. 

This makes it vital for people to find good coping mechanisms for stress during the holidays. Madrigal deals with stress by “making jokes.” He says, “I’m like the Chandler Bing of my family. Being able to make others laugh always makes me feel better, regardless of how stressed I am.” 

Montoya, on the other hand, deals with stress differently. S

he says, “When I get really stressed, I find a way to step away from the situation. Sometimes that’s sitting in my room for a while, or going for a walk. This way, I can reflect and I can say to myself, ‘your family is here, your friends are here and — despite everything being crazy — there is so much love around me here.’” 

To deal with stress, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends, “Eat healthy, exercise, get plenty of sleep and give yourself a break if you feel stressed out.” Additionally, “Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling. 

Share your problems and how you are feeling and coping with a parent, friend, counselor, doctor, or pastor.”

Although the holidays aren’t a jolly time for everyone, people can find ways to take care so that, like Montoya, they feel that “there is so much love around me here.”