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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

How to take advantage of the holidays and stave off stress, anxiety, and depression

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Nov 14th 2008

holiday stress

Whether we like it or not, the holidays are just around the corner. While the commercials will show us all how fun and celebratory the holidays can be, for many of us, they serve as a trigger for stress, anxiety, and depression. Distress rises when we're thrust into social situations we're not ready for, pressured into buying gifts with money we don't have, or caring for parents whose health is failing, along with an array of other challenges.

Here are 5 things you can do to minimize your stress and depression during this holiday season and perhaps even enjoy yourself in moments at a time. 

  • Acknowledge that the holidays can be a trigger for you - Before we can begin to work with any challenge, we need to first call it like it is. Based on past negative experiences, the very word "holidays" may be a trigger for you. It can stir up all sorts of uncomfortable emotions from fear to sadness, to anger, to guilt, and many more.  The first thing we must do is simply acknowledge that the holidays can stir up these emotions. Then we can take the next step.

  • Envision how you would like to see these holidays play out - What is most important to you about these holidays? Is it connecting with people you haven't seen in a while or spending time with family or friends? Is it connecting to the spiritual aspects of the holidays? Is it holding onto your money this year? Let's suppose we let go of the past for a moment and the judgments of good or bad, right or wrong, fair or unfair. How might you envision a realistic picture of this holiday playing out that works for you? For example, saying something like, "I would like to enjoy my holiday on the moon" might be considered unrealistic.  In other words, choose a goal for this holiday that you feel could potentially be attainable.

  • Make a plan for the vision - What do you need to make this vision a reality? If you want to spend little money, make a plan to look at lower cost stores or buy fewer gifts this year. If you don't have family around but want to be around people, make a plan to seek out friends in the area, or look into community events. If it is about having a nice time with your family, try to set aside your differences on these particular days, choose to not engage in certain discussions, and try and take a breather from time to time reminding yourself of what is most important.


  • Focus on what is most important right now - This may be a good mantra to keep in your pocket during the holidays.  It is too easy for us to let our minds get caught up in worries of the future or grievances of the past .Saying to yourself, "what is most important right now", or "what is my purpose right now" can help keep your mind on track and be aligned with your plan and vision. For example, if the plan is to have an enjoyable time with your family and you catch your mind swimming to grievances of the past while together, saying to yourself "what is most important right now" will allow your mind to come back to the present and realize that the past isn't as important as the current vision of just connecting with family and friends right now.


  • Seek social support - The holidays are a time when many of us may feel alone without family and friends around. Isolating during the holidays often gives fuel to depression, so try and find creative ways to be around people for support. You can contact old friends, volunteer, or look at what community organizations are having people get together. Relieve yourself of the pressure of needing to be lively, but just being around people can be helpful.

Finally, recognize that this might be a difficult time for you. So give yourself permission to take time-outs when feeling your stress rise. Say no to people if you're feeling overloaded. Stick to a budget, knowing we are all in tough economic times right now, and it's ok to not max out the credit card. Give yourself permission to be imperfect and if need be, feel free to seek professional help.


As always, please share below about what works and doesn't work for you during the holidays. Your questions and comments are encouraged here.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

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