EXPERT’S CORNER: Strategies for coping with holiday stress




The holidays are here, which means visiting with family and friends, attending joyful celebrations and buying presents. It also means shorter days, colder weather, jam-packed schedules and endless to-do lists. It’s little wonder that despite the festive season, many people feel overwhelmed and stressed this time of year.

“December, a month filled with holidays and cheer, can be a time for connecting with friends and family, giving and receiving, and truly enjoying the company of those we love. But many of us forget the true meaning of the holiday season by getting wrapped up in doing more and more, and feeling less and less joyful and connected,” said Melissa Blacker, MA, associate director of the Stress Reduction Program at the Center for Mindfulness at UMass Medical School.

“Meditation practices can be helpful at this time of year. The practice of mindfulness encourages us to pause and be with whatever we may be feeling, even if we aren’t fulfilling our idea of having holiday spirit,” she said. An expert in mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques, Blacker offers some tips for surviving the holidays:

  1. Throughout the day, stop and take mindful pauses. Take a few breaths. Notice what you are doing, how you are feeling emotionally and physically, and what’s in your mind. Ask yourself if what you are doing is contributing to a sense of ease and balance, or if you are driving yourself to distraction with expectations of a perfect holiday, the perfect gift or meal, or some ideal image of yourself. See if you can make a minor change in your plans that will give you more space in your life.
  2. Take a longer pause each day to notice your surroundings. In the middle of a busy mall or supermarket, at home or at work, take a moment to sit down, look around, listen to the sounds around you, and take in all of the information that is available to your senses. Widen your field of awareness and look up at the sky. Then close your eyes, take a few breaths, and continue on your way. 
  3. If you are feeling disconnected or sad, and expect to be feeling happier or more peaceful, give yourself permission to experience those feelings. When you stop trying to feel differently, you may notice that your mood lifts on its own. 
  4. If the sadness persists or deepens, reach out to others. Make plans to do something with a friend or a co-worker, or consider making an appointment to talk to a professional counselor. Being with others can be profoundly connecting and healing. 
  5. Find a way to give to the community. Volunteering at a local shelter, serving a meal to the homeless or helping out at your local library are just a few ways to give and receive at the same time, which can reconnect you with the true meaning of this holiday season.

For more information about the UMass Medical School Stress Reduction Clinic, visit or call 508-856-2656.