How to Survive the Holidays

Musicians' Assistance Program

Volume CIV, No. 12December, 2004

Leslie Cardell, LCSW

Yes, the holiday season is upon us once again. All those good times, the family togetherness and happy celebrations we’ve come to expect…Right? No matter how you observe the holidays, you probably have a lot of ideas in your head of what the holidays are supposed to be like. The only problem is, it doesn’t always work out that way. Trying to live up to all those expectations can be a prescription for disappointment and even depression.

You may not be able to have the classic Hallmark holiday (as though anyone does), but you can minimize the potential for stress and depression, and improve your chances of finding moments of pleasure and satisfaction. It can be helpful to understand some of the pitfalls and triggers for holiday blues and stress.

Our relationships can be sources of conflict and stress at anytime of the year, but problems often worsen during the holiday season. After all, you may be spending more time with your mother-in law than you would under normal circumstances. Old resentments and rivalries can get re-ignited, and leave you feeling like a twelve-year-old all over again. You may feel especially lonely and sad if a loved one will be absent this year, and seeing others enjoying themselves may make it even harder to accept.

As with relationships, financial issues can cause stress at any time of the year. But if you’re spending extra money on travel, gifts and entertaining, you may be worried about how you’ll manage, and set yourself up for an upsetting post-holiday credit card bill.

Trying to pack all the shopping, social events, and holiday preparations into a short period of time can take a physical toll over time. Many of you try to book as many gigs as you possibly can before things slow down again after the New Year. You may be putting exercise, sleep, and healthy eating habits at the bottom of your list of priorities. Stress, lack of exercise, and too much food and alcohol can easily lead to illness.

So how can you avoid some of these pitfalls? When we’re in the middle of a stressful time, it can be difficult to step back and take a look at what we need to do to help ourselves cope better. Take some time now and think about what strategies might be helpful for you. Here are some suggestions.


Work on developing realistic expectations for the holiday. Pace yourself, and try not to take on more than you can handle. Focus on the present instead of trying to recreate fond memories from the past. As times change, traditions need to as well. Perhaps there’s a new way to celebrate and express what’s meaningful about this time of year for you.

Recognize and accept how you’re actually feeling. Sometimes we have good reasons to feel sad. There may be an important person who’s no longer in your life, and the holidays are a reminder of that loss. You may not be able to be with the people you love this year. Of course you’ll feel sad. Just because it’s “the holidays” you don’t have to be happy.

If you’re feeling lonely or isolated think about the sources of support and companionship in your life. Perhaps there’s a religious or social service you could participate in, or an old friend you haven’t seen in a while. Volunteering to help others can be a great way to improve your spirits, and develop new relationships.

Take a break when you need to — even fifteen minutes alone can be very refreshing. In the thick of things we sometimes don’t leave room for the simple pleasures that help us maintain our equilibrium. Find some quiet time for yourself and do something that helps you clear your mind. Listen to some music, or take an evening walk in the park.

Make a budget and stick to it. Be realistic about what you can afford to spend, or you’ll cause yourself a lot of unnecessary stress as you try to pay the bills off later. Remember that smothering someone with gifts won’t buy happiness or love.

Do your best to maintain healthy habits. Drinking too much can exacerbate feelings of depression, and just because your Aunt Ethel made it, you don’t need to feel pressured into eating more fruitcake than you want to. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, and find time for a physical activity you enjoy.


We all have bad days — that’s an unavoidable part of life.

But if you find that things don’t improve, and one bad day seems to follow another, you should think about asking for help.

If you’re feeling persistently sad, anxious, and hopeless, with problems sleeping and managing your day-to-day life for more than two weeks, you may be experiencing more than just the holiday blues. You may have depression and should talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.

Don’t hesitate to call the MAP office for a confidential professional consultation, or help in finding appropriate affordable treatment. Our hours are Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9:30 to 5:00 and we can be reached at (212) 397-4802.

Wishing you all a peaceful, rewarding, and creative New Year.

This column was based on material found in articles on these Web sites: (“Coping with the Holidays: 12 Tips to Manage Stress and the Blues,”) and (“Holiday Depression and Stress.”)