The Holiday Season and How Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Techniques Can Help to Manage the Pressures

December can be an overwhelming time of the year for many of us as we try to navigate the pressures that come with the holiday season. 

Family, finances, relationships and personal challenges are just some of the factors that we need to juggle to make it through the holiday season unscathed. More than any other time of year, the expectations we set ourselves contribute to a drastic rise in mental health-related illnesses like depression and anxiety. This past year alone, over 1.4 million Britons were referred to NHS mental health therapy. Every one of these cases was unique, each with different reasons for needing help. But know that some common concerns affect every one of us in varying degrees. If you are having trouble addressing all of the demands that seem to come from all directions over the festive season, know that you’re not alone. 

Why does the holiday season trigger such anxiety and depression in some people and not others? 

The reasons behind certain people feeling the stress more than others vary as much as people. For some of us, Christmas day triggers a memory of someone who is no longer with us. For others, it can feel like we have failed if we don’t spend the day how we imagined we would. Whatever the reasons, it can be confronting if we analyse all of our limitations and inadequacies within the scope of a single day. Stress can come from all directions on December 25th. A minor problem that has slowly manifested itself over the past few months can finally come to light when we least expect it, leaving us embarrassed and apologising to loved ones. Left unchecked, this can quickly spiral out of control, resulting in increased feelings of isolation.

I’m not a lonely person but why do I feel alone over the Holiday Season? 

The lives we lead and the decisions we make are all shaped by our experience and memories, and these commonly come to fruition in December as we reflect on our year. A sense of finality arises as the year draws to an imagined ‘end’, causing a heightened sense of reflection and awareness. Attempting to look at the bigger picture can lead to feelings of failure or a distorted perspective on how we think the year went. We are endemically bad at finding the nature of our feelings. By becoming too focused on the year as a whole, smaller successes often become overshadowed by a negative moment which has left a lasting impression. If we were truly honest with ourselves, we would see the art of a controlled and cathartic conversation as the best reminder of the connections we are capable of making and sustaining.  

How can I use this time of year to my advantage?

Every day we subconsciously set ourselves expectations and goals – whether it is completing a task we have been postponing, getting up earlier, going to the gym, doing a spot of Christmas shopping. Consider the absurdities of placing so many expectations on a single month of the year. Instead, take a moment to be conscious of the complexities within the people around you. Be patient. Start today what you have been putting off until the start of next year. Have the conversations that you have been avoiding, and understand that expressing yourself is the process that connects us. If you are spending time with family that have younger children, use this as an opportunity to show them how to successfully manage these feelings and frustrations, and watch as these learned behaviours become the building blocks for healthy, independent adults. If you are spending it alone or without a loved one, start a new tradition of your own. You are still the most important person in your life, and it’s essential to take care of your own mental health before you can help others.    

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