DESPITE the shopping, parties and good cheer the holiday season brings, it can also be the most stressful time of the year, and that's when times are good.

With the current economic climate, the foreclosures and high unemployment, even more people are wrestling with anxiety, fear and depression.

For too many people, the holiday season is anything but joyful. It just exacerbates their feelings of sadness and isolation.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 20.9 million American adults suffer from some depressive disorder.

During these tumultuous economic times, life can seem even more daunting and hopeless. But despite the challenges, let's not overlook the many blessings in our lives - not someday in the future, but right now!

An attitude of gratitude

Stumbling block or steppingstone? It's up to you. While you don't have a choice about everything that happens in your life, you can choose to have a positive attitude.

Yes, I'm recommending that you make a conscious choice to be grateful and happy. Sounds simple, right? Because it is. The ordinary things in life - like a beautiful sunset, a warm smile or a hug from a child - can trigger a lift in your mood.

Get social

Don't isolate yourself. Why do you think that a prisoner's worse punishment is solitary confinement? If you can't be with family, invite some friends over to share the holiday season.

What about volunteering to help others? How about reading a holiday story to children at the Free Library, helping out at a shelter or providing a nice meal for your elderly neighbor?

You'd be surprised how helping others allows you to put things into perspective and forget your own troubles.

Skip the holiday spirits

If possible, just pass on the alcohol. It's a big-time depressant and will only worsen your feelings of sadness.

Budget wisely

Don't get caught up in the short-term thrill of spending frivolously on gifts you cannot afford. This only leads to long-term pain later when the bills arrive. Set a budget, use cash instead of credit, and you'll be happy come January when you're not saddled with any additional debts.

Exercise, exercise!

If you don't maintain anything else during the holidays, definitely maintain your exercise routine. Hands down, experts agree that exercise is one of the best ways to fight depression, stress and illness. It may increase longevity.

Exercise is clearly the best medicine. Surely, if it were a pill, everyone would be taking it! Besides, the more you stick with your routine, the less likely you'll fall completely off the healthy-eating wagon.

And if you are short on time at this time of year, don't worry. Here are five surefire stress-busting routines you can do in or out of the gym in 15- or 30-minute sessions. The key is just to do it.

1. Do 100 squat thrusts, either regular or modified. It's an old-fashioned calisthenic exercise that delivers a full-body workout.

Start from a standing position with feet together, squat to the floor with hands on the ground, slightly in front of your feet. Jump back into a push-up position. Hop both feet up toward your hands and into a squat position with hands slightly in front of feet. Stand up and repeat.

If that's too rigorous for you, then modify the exercise by walking the legs back one at a time instead of hopping. It's still very effective.

If you need more of a challenge, perform a push-up when you are in the push-up position. This really turns up the fire. If you have a pull-up bar handy, you can add a pull-up once you reach the standing position.

Squat thrusts rock!

2. Jump rope. Six minutes of jumping rope at 120 to 140 revolutions per minute is equivalent to 20 minutes of jogging. You will definitely feel rejuvenated after that.

If you're at the gym, try these:

3. 30-minute circuit routine. Hit the strength-training machines at your gym and train each body part nonstop in 60-second intervals for 30 minutes.

4. Cardio interval program. Use a treadmill or an elliptical trainer at a modest pace for 3 minutes followed by 30-second or 60-second sprints. Try this for 30 minutes or as long as an hour, if you're feeling really ambitious.

5. Yoga. For a change of pace, stretch, tone and breathe deeply, achieving a state of pure bliss, with hatha, ashtanga, Iyengar or Bikram yoga.

So flip the script, baby! You don't have to suffer this year. Enjoy the holidays, manage your mood and stress, and stay fit.

Kimberly Garrison is a certified personal trainer and owner of One on One Ultimate Fitness in Philadelphia (www.1on1ultimatefitness.com).

E-mail her at

kimberly@1on1ultimatefitness.com. Her column appears each Thursday in Yo!