Comfort and Joy?

Musicians' Assistance Program

Volume CVI, No. 12December, 2006

Janet Becker, LCSW, Ph.D.

Tis the season to be jolly … or at least that’s what we are told. Nevertheless, many people find that the holiday season brings with it many disappointments and stresses, enhanced by social and commercial pressure to celebrate and feel jubilant. Instead of excited anticipation and enthusiasm, one might, in fact, feel sadly otherwise, as the images which surround us convey the message that everyone is supposed to be happy and fulfilled by loving relationships, bountiful feasts, and abundant gift-giving.

Faced with the painful discrepancy between an inner state of hollowness and an outer environment of sparkling yuletide images, the holidays present many temptations to overindulge in a variety of ways, in an effort to avoid those melancholy feelings, and get with the program of jolliness.

By succumbing to these temptations, some people may do themselves much harm. As they struggle to cope with their anxieties and sadness, many are drawn back to old “proven” methods of mood enhancement.

This may be especially risky for those who are in recovery from alcohol or drug dependency, as well as those who have been struggling to alter past behavior patterns of overeating or excessive spending and debt.

What can one do to avoid these pitfalls, and still have some enjoyment throughout the winter holidays? First, it usually helps to have an understanding of the kinds of trigger areas that typically set off holiday-related stress.


Relationships can be problematic, especially if one has experienced a major loss, such as a breakup, divorce, or death of a loved one. Facing the holidays without that person, while seeing others enjoying warmth and closeness with their partners, may even intensify the sadness.

Also, family conflicts and misunderstandings often re-emerge, especially when family members are reunited under one roof for extended holiday visits.

These are just some of the possible relationship-related situations which might set off a plummet in mood.


Finances are another area of potential stress at any time of the year. However, the pressure to overspend during the holidays on gifts, travel, food and entertainment can increase stress as one tries to make ends meet, while striving to make others and yourself happy.


Physical demands include the strain of shopping, attending social events, and preparing holiday meals. Proper health habits, including exercise and sufficient rest, often get sidetracked as one rushes around to accomplish the many holiday tasks. Nevertheless, the heightened demands of the season make it even more important to take care of ourselves by eating healthfully and sensibly, avoiding excessive alcohol intake, exercising, and getting enough sleep.

In order to proceed through the holidays without doing harm to oneself, it is important to understand the potential triggers described above, so that one can be prepared and have some available strategies to cope with them. Here are some tips:

  • Acknowledge and accept your feelings. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it is a holiday expectation.
  • Get support. Try not to isolate yourself. If your usual support system is not available during this time, it might help to get involved in a group or community effort to help others.
  • Stick to a budget. Decide ahead of time how much money you can afford to spend on gifts. If you overspend, you may be faced with months ahead of ongoing financial stress, which can be avoided by adhering to a pre-set plan.
  • Learn to say “no.” Saying “yes” to everyone else can lead to feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Remember that you are not required to meet all of the needs and expectations expressed by those around you. Also, keep in mind that you don’t have to do everything by yourself. Enlist friends and relatives to share the holiday chores and responsibilities.
  • Don’t abandon healthy habits. Before going to holiday celebrations, decide how much and what kinds of foods and beverages you can consume. Having a healthy snack beforehand may help to lessen temptation. Be sure to get enough sleep, and to schedule time for physical activity.
  • Make time for yourself. Even if your schedule does not permit much time to relax, spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, can help to re-energize you and manage stress. Find ways to clear your mind, slow down your breathing, and restore a sense of calm. Walks, soothing music, quiet time by yourself are some suggestions.
  • Get professional help if you need it. If, despite your best efforts, you find yourself feeling persistently sad, anxious, irritable, unable to sleep, and you are not able to talk about this with someone in your personal life, remember that help is always available. It’s important to know that you can reach out to get the support you need.

Remember that the MAP office is open and available throughout the holiday season. You are welcome to call upon us at any time, if you feel you need some help to function and manage your holiday blues.

And, whatever your own holiday experience may include, we extend to you our very best wishes for a healthy and safe Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza and New Year!

This column was based on material found in articles on, and