Simple Tips on Surviving the Holidays

Published in the Woonsocket Callon December 23, 2018

The holiday season can be a double-edge sword. For some, it brings feelings of warmth and joy, even closeness and belonging to family and friends, but for others it produces, extra stress and anxiety and feelings of isolation and depression. Increased demands and family obligations during Christmas through New Year’s Eve, from last minute shopping for gifts, baking and cooking, cleaning and hosting parties, getting the Christmas cards mailed, and even having unrealistic expectations can bring about the holiday blues. Although holiday stress triggers depression, it can also bring about headaches, excessive drinking and overeating and even difficulty in sleeping.

During her 24-year career as a licensed behavioral health therapist, Holly Fitting, LMHC, LCDP, Vice President of Addiction and Residential Services at the Providence-based The Providence Center (TPC), has assisted many of her clients develop strategies to cope with the holiday blues. “It’s quite common,” says Fitting, who oversees over 20 programs at TPC.

Traveling to visit families, flight delays, long lines to check in, bad weather can add to your stress, too, says Fitting, even anticipating topics conversations that may lead to arguments and events that may not even happen.

Pre-planning Potential Family Conflict

Fitting says that preplanning potential issues that you might encounter at a family gathering can helpful up to a point if you just don’t over plan. “If you try to figure out every possible scenario that might occur, this may only heighten your anxiety,” she adds. So, if you think your sibling will bring up political topics you may not want to discuss, you can plan to say, “Let’s talk about this topic after the holidays,” suggest Fitting. Or just don’t sit near them at the dinner table to avoid the conversation, she adds.

It’s okay to say “no” if you choose not to attend holiday parties or family gatherings, says Fitting, especially if you feel stressed out going. To keep feelings from being hurt and reducing potential problems it might be better to go but limit the time there, she says.

Also, you can choose not to take on the responsibilities and commitments to bring trays of treats, says Fitting. But if you choose to bring dessert, take the easy road. Instead of baking everything from scratch, buy a platter of cookies or a store-bought cake to lighten your load.

Combating the Holiday Blues

Maintaining healthy habits can also help you beat the holiday blues. “Try to eat healthy meals before holiday gatherings and minimize sugary desserts and alcohol consumed at the celebrations,” states Fitting. During the holidays, “continue your exercise routine, even if it is a scaled down version and get plenty of sleep,” she suggests, noting that this will help to reduce anxiety and depression, sleep better and keep the weight off.

Out of control holiday spending and last-minute shopping can increase holiday stress, too, says Fitting who suggests these tips to reduce gift costs: “Stick to your set budget to avoid guilt about buying gifts you cannot afford. Use coupons and sales to decrease spending costs. Agree to set the spending limits to no more than $ 20. Rather than buying presents for ten different people, play Secret Santa and each family member just buys one gift. Set the price and rules ahead of time and make sure everyone understands them. Or rather than buying presents collect cash to make a donation to an agreed upon charity,” she recommends.

Standing in long lines in the shopping mall can quickly become a source of stress, says Fitting. “One good solution is to double up and invite a family member or friend to shop. Waiting in a long line alone always feels like it takes twice as long as when you have someone to talk to.

You can get into the holiday spirit by starting a new tradition for yourself and family that you will enjoy, suggests Fitting. “Volunteering to help out with a Toys for Tots Drive, or at a soup kitchen. Giving back by volunteering can really help to boost your spirits,” she says.

Finally, Fitting says, “accept the fact that there will be mishaps along the way during the holidays. Try laughing at the unanticipated events and this certainly will help to reduce the undue stress experienced.”

Getting Professional Help When Needed

As Christmas and New Year’s approach, and you cannot shake the holiday blues, “it is important to be honest with yourself and your feelings. But, if the feelings of sadness still persist then you should go speak to a professional. Sometimes going for therapy to talk through your feelings will help to alleviate depression and anxiety. Sometimes prescribed medication along with therapy is necessary to help reduce symptoms.”

For those suffering the holiday blues, call The Providence Center at (401) 276 4020 or go to http://www.providence


Coping with the Holiday Blues

Published December 14, 2012, Pawtucket Times

Chestnuts roasting in your fireplace, green wreaths with red ribbons and brightly colored lights on decorated evergreen trees may elicit pleasant thoughts about the upcoming holidays; however, these thoughts might just tear open old wounds and bring to the surface bad memories, triggering stress, tension and even depression.

Not every family gathering with your parents, siblings, children, or grandchildren will be as serene as a Norman Rockwell painting. Of course, everyone has heard horror stories involving holiday family gatherings.

Surviving the Stress of Family Visits

Allison Bernier, LICSW, Associate Director of Wellness Employment and Network Services, at the Providence Center, notes that while the holiday season can be a time of family celebration, joy, and companionship for many people, it can also be a very stressful time. “High expectations, disrupted routines, dealing with loss or separation from loved ones, financial strain, and time constraints can all exacerbate anxiety and depression,” she says.

Bernier, who has 15 years under her belt employed as a Social Worker, who now provides one-to-one counseling to clients for the past six years, provides common sense tips as to how to survive stress that can be ignited by holiday family gathering.

Fighting holiday blues can be as simple as being prepared for family conflicts and having a specific plan to handle the uncomfortable emotions that may arise, notes Bernier. Creating a list of “potential issues” and “role playing how you will react with people you trust” can be effective ways to survive difficulties that might occur, she says.

“It is okay to know that you don’t have to be happy during the holidays,” states Bernier, stressing “just accept your feelings and the place where you are at.” If needed, just reach out to your network of family or friends or contact a professional, she recommends.

According to Bernier, when expectations are unrealistic, we almost always will fail to meet them. Scale back on your plans, or ask for help Just keep your expectations low and when you visit family or friends, just go and enjoy the social interactions, she says.

If seeing family causes you great amounts of stress each year, it is alright to say no sometimes and celebrate with friends, Bernier recommends. If you don’t want to withdraw from your family gathering because of tension, you don’t have to, she says. “Just keep your visit time-limited,” she recommends, only going for an hour or two rather than spending all day at the event.

The holidays can easily become a source of stress, especially when you’re standing in long lines at the local mall waiting to buy the last available iPad while trying to remember how much money you have left to use on your credit cards. Writing out a gift list along with creating a budget for holiday spending can help decrease anxiety, too, Bernier notes. By setting spending limits you will also reduce the anxiety that comes with reviewing your post-holiday credit card bills.

Maintaining healthy habits can also take the blues out of your holiday, predicts Bernier. Enjoy some eggnog, cheese cake or pastries at a holiday party, but keep the balance by eating healthy foods (smaller portions), drinking alcohol in moderation, continuing to exercise and getting enough rest.

Coping with Holiday Depression

Besides family stress, other factors may well play into bringing on the holiday blues.

During this time of the year, some Rhode Islanders may even feel a little depressed or have suicidal thoughts with the approaching upcoming festive holidays, especially if they have lost a spouse and friends, are unemployed, experiencing painful chronic illnesses, or just feel isolated from others.

If this happens, “feeling low with nowhere to turn” as noted singer songwriter Bill Withers says is a public service announcement, there is a place to call – The Samaritans of Rhode Island – where trained volunteers “are there to listen.” Incorporated in 1977, the Pawtucket-based nonprofit program is dedicated to reducing the occurrence of suicide by befriending the despairing and lonely throughout the state’s 39 cities and towns.

Since the inception, The Samaritans has received more than 500,000 calls and trained more 1,380 volunteers to answer its confidential and anonymous Hotline/Listening Lines.

With the first Samaritan branch started in England in 1953, chapters can now be found in more than 40 countries of the world. “Samaritans, can I help you?” is quietly spoken into the phone across the world in a multilingual chorus of voices,” notes its web site.

Executive Director, Denise Panichas, of the Rhode Island branch, notes that the communication-based program teaches volunteers to effectively listen to people who are in crisis. Conversations are free, confidential and, most importantly, anonymous.

A rigorous 21-hour training program teaches volunteers to listen to callers without expressing personal judgments or opinions. Panichas said that the listening techniques called “befriending,” calls for 90 percent listening and 10 percent talking.

Panichas noted The Samaritans of Rhode Island Listening Line is also a much needed resources for caregivers and older Rhode Islanders.

Other services include a peer-to-peer grief Safe Place Support Group for those left behind by suicide as well as community education programs.

In 2011, The Samaritans of Rhode Island received more than 7,000 calls and hosted more than 50,000 visitors to its website.

The Samaritans of Rhode Island can be the gateway to care or a “compassionate nonjudgmental voice on the other end of the line,” Panichas notes. “It doesn’t matter what your problem is, be it depression, suicidal thoughts, seeking resources for mental health services in the community or being lonely or just needing to talk, our volunteers are there to listen.”

For persons interested in more information about suicide emergencies, The Samaritans website,, has an emergency checklist as well as information by city and town including Blackstone Valley communities from Pawtucket to Woonsocket.

Professional Galley and Gift Shop Supports Program and Services

In December 2011, The Samaritans began a social venture, by relocating to the City of Pawtucket’s Arts & Entertainment District, and opening the Forget-Me-Not Gallery and Community Education Center. Through partnerships with Rhode Island’s fine arts and crafts community, “we hope to foster hope, inspiration and commemoration of the lives of our loved ones who have fallen victim to suicide,” stated Panichas.

At the Forget-Me-Not Gallery, no sales taxes are charged on one-of-a-kind pieces of art work. The gallery also is a retail site for Rhode Island-based Alex and Ani jewelry and other giftware.

For those seeking to financially support the programs of The Samaritans of Rhode Island, its Gallery and Education Center is available to rent for special events, meetings and other types of occasions. For information on gallery rental, call the Samaritans business line at 401-721-5220; or go to

Need to Talk? Call a volunteer at The Samaritans. Call 401.272.4044 or toll free in RI (1-800) 365-4044.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12 is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who covers health care, aging, and medical issues. He can be contacted at