How to Cope with the Christmas Blues

Musicians' Assistance Program

Volume CII, No. 12December, 2002

M.A.P. Staff

Seasonal “cheer” has become synonymous with overdoing it – too much shopping, too much spending, too much eating and too much alcohol. In addition to the holiday pressure that most people feel, musicians often experience added pressure. You may be working a great deal, feeling that you must earn the bulk of your income during this busy season. Along with this stress, you may be coping with performance anxiety, peer pressure, loneliness, a wish to be a part of a group, feelings of alienation or money anxiety.

Before going further, it must be pointed out that the term “holidays” around this time is often a code word for Christmas or the Christian holidays. But even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, you may still be playing Christmas gigs and experiencing stress – especially if everyone around you is wishing you a Merry Christmas and you don’t even celebrate the holiday! For those who don’t celebrate Christmas, be warned: the rest of this article deals mainly with pressures associated with Christmas, even if the generic term “holidays” is used. However, the stress-reducing tips outlined here can apply to any holiday or situation, especially where family is involved.

Although Christmas is generally viewed as a joyful occasion, it may also be a source of stress and frustration for many musicians and their loved ones. Developing an awareness of your feelings and planning how to cope with the stress of the season can help you let go of unrealistic expectations, acknowledge spiritual traditions, and find safe, healthy holiday customs to enjoy. Here are ten suggestions to make the holidays a little more pleasant.

  1. Take a moment to review past holidays. What activities did you find most and least enjoyable? You can better plan your priorities by knowing what you want to do and who you would like to be with.
  2. Plan ahead. Some holiday events are inevitable. Follow the old Boy Scout motto – “Be prepared.” Shop early and at off-peak hours if possible. Get your cards out early. Travel to your destination a day ahead of time.
  3. Be realistic about what you can expect from your family. Is family togetherness a myth or reality? Chances are it is somewhere in between. For some families holidays can be particularly stressful times, but remember: holidays do end! Meanwhile, if you are alienated from your family, make an effort to spend time with supportive others who can act as family surrogates.
  4. Watch your alcohol consumption. Holiday partying can be a real problem. Never drive under the influence of any drug, including alcohol, which has been implicated in more accidents than any other substance. Be a responsible host by offering non-alcoholic beverages, and remember that there are host-liability laws. When choosing gifts, consider something other than liquor. By giving a CD instead, you’ll be helping to keep a musician or two employed.
  5. Watch your budget. Be realistic with your gift-giving. An inflated credit card bill can ruin the New Year. Gifts don’t need to be monetary. They can come in the form of favors like the promise of a night of babysitting or a voucher for a back rub.
  6. Set limits. Know what you can and can’t do, and be realistic about your commitments. Trying to fit in every social engagement may simply lead to a preoccupation with what the next event will be. Why give yourself the added anxiety?
  7. Plan a special event for yourself. Holidays are a time of good will, so why not be good to you? This is your time; make it worthwhile. A stro1l down Fifth Avenue or attendance at a church service or holiday concert can brighten your spirits.
  8. Be in the moment. This may sound like an unusual suggestion, but it is worth following. Appreciate what is happening when it is happening. It may be the beauty of a decorated city street, the smile on a child’s face, the warmth of being with a close friend or the satisfaction of making music. Even if you are playing Handel’s Messiah for the 31st time, it may be an audience member’s first experience of the piece – so try to think of it as your first performance.
  9. Tell your loved ones how much you really appreciate them. It’s always nice to let someone know you care.
  10. Be grateful for what you have. This can be a difficult task, especially if your year has been filled with loss or hardship. But take a moment for meditation, prayer or reflection. Even in adversity, you may be able to find some reason for giving thanks, which in turn can lead to a more hopeful outlook on the future.

The MAP office has social workers who are available to speak with you regarding a wide range of concerns, including personal or relationship problems, work or performance stresses, and substance abuse. Please call our office at (212) 397-4802 for a free consultation.

This article was written by staff of the Local 802 Musicians’ Assistance Program.