Do the holidays stress you out? Identifying a belief, a set of emotions, or habits and actions that relate to the stress can help you realize how dynamic systems keep us stuck in our anxiety. More techniques and tips on using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for holiday stress here. Then, we invite your questions or comments at the end.
What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a method of treatment and a type of addiction therapy that helps us understand the complex relationships between our thoughts, emotions and behaviors. However, beyond simply facilitating understanding, cognitive behavioral therapy techniques focus on changing that relationship with the following goals in mind:
1. Altering behavior deliberately, so that it is not reflexively driven by habitual thoughts or embedded emotions.
2. Re-examining and letting go of negative and erroneous beliefs.
3. Relieving the unwelcome negative emotions that are often the result of these beliefs.
A qualified mental health counselor generally conducts CBT, especially behavioral therapy for substance issues. If successful, the counselor’s role can be internalized by the client, who can continue to use it to grow in his or her ability to monitor inaccurate or negative thinking, and thereby to counter their effects and respond more effectively to life situations.
Holiday anxiety and CBT techniques
Holiday anxiety can be helped by Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques that you can use with minimal guidance. Let us look at an example of the thought/emotion/behavior complexes that arise around the last month of each year, and view them through the lens of CBT.
The belief: Everything has to be perfect-the gifts I buy, the way I look, the dinner I make . . .
The emotions: Anxiety, resistance, feeling unsupported, irritability, perhaps resentment . . .
The behavior: Frantic striving to make everything work, self-criticism, comparing our achievements with others, and often alienating loved ones in our obsession to perform.
CBT would have us examine the underlying belief, “Everything has to be perfect” and challenge it as inaccurate and probably inherited. Because we have had certain ideas for so long, it can be difficult to let them go. Therefore, we also look at the associated feelings and ask ourselves:
- Do we like these feelings?
- Wouldn’t we rather be free of them?
- Can we examine the behaviors dispassionately and recognize that they are driven by a belief that might be irrational?
- What if perfection can be recast as an ideal instead of a necessary goal?
CBT can work in several ways. One is to recognize and discredit the fundamental belief that is driving the behaviors and resulting in the consequent emotions. Another is to deliberately change the behavior.This can, as we get new results, help us let go of the underlying belief.
An example of CBT at work
For example, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) can compel people to perform rituals like excessive handwashing, or repeatedly turning lights on and off. They know the behavior does not make sense, but are still convinced that “something bad” will happen if they don’t do it.
Cognitive behavioral therapy won’t seek to discredit the belief, because the person with OCD is rational enough to already understand that it’s irrational. What CBT will attempt to do instead is encourage the patient to what is called “exposure therapy”, in which he or she will experiment with facing the consequence of suppressing their instinctive behavior (which they perceive as preventing a threat). When the falsely anticipated consequence doesn’t materialize, the belief driving the behavior is diminished, and, consequently, the stress of it all is relieved.
A healthy holiday ideal for addiction recovery
Are you stressed by the holidays? Can you identify a belief, a set of emotions, or habits and actions that relate to the stress? It doesn’t matter which you recognize first; the point is to keep looking until you see how these all work as dynamic systems that can keep us stuck in our anxiety.
A pen and paper are useful for this self-examination. Once you have spotted the culprits, belief, emotions and behavior, meditate, on which cognitive behavioral therapy techniques can help you dissipate the power of the system. Can you discredit the belief as an absolute that no longer holds true? Or should you approach from the behavior angle and take action-perhaps opposite to your inclination, that represents a break from your habitual mode? What you’ve just done, on a very basic level, is use cognitive behavior therapy to help curb anxiety during the holidays.
Socrates once said, “The unexamined mind is not worth living.” We can use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques to make a habit of examining our minds in a creative and positive way, especially as we try to stay clean and sober during the holidays.