5 Ways CBT Can Help You Over Christmas
December is here again, and unless you’ve recently emigrated to Mars, you’re probably already overloaded with offers, decorations, and goods screaming at you from every shop and magazine that you pass. While it can be a lot of fun, the build-up to and arrival of Xmas often heralds one of the most stressful times of year for many of us and CBT can help you to enjoy this wonderful time.
CBT therapists know that planning behaviour in advance helps us manage all sorts of emotions. So to reduce your stress levels around buying presents and supplies, work out a list in advance and set specific times and a realistic budget to complete each job. If you hate shopping, make the most of online shopping opportunities especially from those that can offer free delivery.
Planning the Xmas meal
The main trick to this is (like most things in life) aiming for good enough, rather than perfect. Who really cares how many types of sauces you offer (or whether you made them)? CBT tells us to catch these kinds of unrealistic thoughts and be more realistic. If you love doing exquisite catering and buying/making special table decorations and other dressing, then go for it. Otherwise, you can reduce your stress levels by focusing on a good enough meal that you can enjoy as much as your guests. Maybe one of your guests would enjoy doing table decorations or ensuring there are pretty matching napkins and crackers.
If you’re hosting the Xmas meal, ask people to contribute help. All adults can be roped in, whether it’s bringing a dish or arriving early to peel vegetables, for example. Teenage and older children can be brought into this too. Sharing the work can enhance the fun and reduce your stress. Don’t worry if people don’t do things the way you do. Let go of any perfectionism like this by using the CBT technique of substituting a more realistic thought like “people are having fun anyway”.
Having / Going to the Xmas Day Event
Another useful CBT thought challenge is to remind yourself that Xmas is one day a year and that it doesn’t need to be perfect. Try to minimise the time that you spend with people you don’t like and keep warring parties apart where possible. If there are simmering rows brewing ahead of Xmas, they’re likely to surface around this time. So, try to resolve any disagreements you know about ahead of the day.
And remember to set realistic limits to invitations. If you’re going to be stressed out by having people visiting or staying overnight, make it clear that people are invited for 1-6pm or 24th-26th December, for instance.
Being alone on Xmas Day
If you’re going to be alone at Xmas, you may feel lonely because it’s portrayed as such a family time. If you might feel lonely, try all avenues of arranging to be with other people. This can include visiting relatives or friends or arranging your alternative get-together for singles and/or others.
If none of these is practicable for you, there are many organisations (e.g., soup kitchens) that welcome volunteers at Xmas. Not only will you get the thrill of helping other people, but there’s often a great spirit of camaraderie among volunteers so that it can feel like an enjoyable party itself.
Whatever your plans (or lack of them) for Xmas, remember that CBT tells us it’s not what actually happens that leaves us feeling upset/anxious/angry but how we interpret it. So, catch any unhelpful things that run through your mind and focus on a more realistic alternative, such as reminding yourself that it’s only one day of the year.