The holidays during the pandemic

Winning on Stage

Volume 120, No. 11December, 2020

Dr. Don Greene

The holidays during the pandemic

By Dr. Don Greene

Even before the pandemic, the holidays were always the most stressful time of year. The holiday season can place enormous demands on your time, energy, finances, and patience. There is no lack of things that can stress you out, including finishing everything on time, figuring out the right gifts to get everyone, shopping, wrapping, shipping, running late, preparing food, cleaning, entertaining, family issues, annoying relatives, and too much of “eat, drink, and be merry.”

Whether it’s Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the winter solstice, or something else, there may be parties, traditions, customs, and family rituals to follow, obligations to keep, and social responsibilities to meet. Along with painful memories of experiences from previous holidays, they all help create an emotional rollercoaster with anxiety, frustration, anger, and feeling overwhelmed, leading to situational depression. Unfortunately, everyone else you’ll encounter during the holidays will also be riding the same emotional rollercoaster.

To make matters worse at this time of year, the seasons are changing from fall to winter. With decreasing daylight and cooler temperatures, people are even more inclined to stay inside during the day and become more sedentary. This can lead to increasing feelings of isolation and loneliness. This can cause a type of depression known as Seasonal Affective Disorder. This can happen during a time when people are supposed to be happy but feel just the opposite.

Due to the continuing Covid-19 crisis, with its uncertainty and pandemic fatigue, this holiday season will present even more challenges than usual. Your plans and schedule will certainly change. If you are going to travel, no matter how you go, it will be much more difficult than in the past. There will be extra restrictions, limits on social interactions due to serious health concerns. You will need to wear a mask and keep socially distant, when you’d prefer to kiss your family members and give hugs to your friends.

Musicians in and around the New York area will face additional stressors during these holidays. Many of the usual performances, like The Nutcracker, will be cancelled. This will cause additional financial problems for performers. This comes after many months of lost wages with no clear end in sight. This could affect your choice of presents for those on your gift list, as well as the activities you’d like to attend. This may cost you more sleepless nights, which will have an effect on your vital energy, positive mood, and optimistic state of mind.

Regardless of the many stressors that you will be experiencing for the next several weeks, there are a number of things that you can do in order to make it as good as possible. Acknowledge and accept the current situation and how it makes your feel. Whether it’s sadness, grief, or feeling bewildered, realize that it is appropriate. It’s due to the unprecedented convergence of the corona virus, depressing news, holiday stress, the financial crisis, loss of the usual holiday gigs, and negative emotions. Here are suggestions to help you navigate through this holiday’s minefield:

  • Plan activities, menus, and collaborations ahead of time.
  • Make a daily schedule for the entire holiday period.
  • Set your priorities from highest to lowest.
  • Be realistic. Limit or cancel non-essential activities.
  • Prepare for unexpected and inevitable changes. Keep flexible.
  • Be reasonable with expectations for yourself and others.
  • Try to stick to your budget and healthy habits.
  • Shop, wrap, and ship your presents and cards early.
  • Consider making your own gifts and cards.
  • Reach out virtually to friends, colleagues, and loved ones.
  • Don’t be afraid to express your honest feelings.
  • See the big picture. Maintain your sense of humor.
    Take shortcuts. Do things on a smaller or shorter scale.
  • Be willing to say “No” or “After the holidays” to others’ requests.
  • Imagine your response in dealing with difficult situations.
  • Try to get as much sleep as possible. Take 20 minute power naps.
  • Try to take private, quiet time for yourself every day.
  • Take a leisurely walk or exercise. Get some fresh air and sunlight.
  • Breathe slowly and deeply. Meditate, practice mindfulness or Centering.
  • Be kind, gentle, and loving to yourself and others.
  • Count your blessings every day, even in these challenging times.

Dr. Don Greene is a peak performance psychologist who trains performing artists to handle highly stressful circumstances. His background and experience make him uniquely qualified to offer counsel to folks who may be struggling in these challenging times. Greene is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. After being commissioned, he went through airborne (paratrooper) training and Ranger (survival) training, and was the first in his West Point class to join the Army’s Special Forces (Green Berets). He was later awarded the Army Commendation Medal for his service as executive officer with the 255th Detachment, 5th Special Forces Group. After resigning as a captain, he earned his master’s and Ph.D. in psychology. His doctoral dissertation showed that the sports psychology strategy known as centering improved the performance of police SWAT officers involved in stress shooting. After graduation, Dr. Greene trained several SWAT teams as well as police dispatchers and emergency first responders. He was in charge of crisis intervention and disaster management for Merrill Lynch in New York for several months after 9/11. Greene has served on the faculty at Juilliard, the Colburn School and the New World Symphony. He has helped thousands of musicians win auditions. Please visit for more information. You can also follow him @winningonstage on Instagram and through the Overcoming Performance Anxiety 101 Forum on Facebook at