5 Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Tips for a Less Stressful Holiday Season

cognitive behavioral therapy tips

Have you been noticing this holiday season the thought, “I have to, I should, always or ugh not again.” Holidays often are filled with expectations for the people around us and us. The perfect holiday can leave us filled with anxiety and disappointment. The negative thoughts we are left with can make us wonder if it would be better if the Grinch just stole Christmas. 

As a Scottsdale therapist working with clients around the holidays, I often notice trends in clients experiencing increased stress and anxiety. Frequently, my clients ask me about negative emotions they see during the holidays – a time of year when we are all trying to feel more joyous and grateful. 

Healthline did a survey in 2016 which indicated that 60% of adults in the USA suffer from stress during the holidays. The stressor reported in the Healthline study were most concentrated on scheduling (who do we need to see, how do we fit it all in, and the cause of this stress can basically be summed up with two words- EXPECTATION and OBLIGATION), finances (gift-giving, traveling, hosting and charity – BUDGET BUST) and health (diet, exercise- the fact is maintaining self-care habits during the holidays sure can be difficult because we are more freely giving away our time).   

The holidays can be stressful and joyous so let’s get to the joyous part as fast as possible. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps us identify a problem thought or feeling before turning it into a problem behavior or action. CBT focuses on coping skills, helping us move out of bah-humbug and into holiday joy.  

Cognitive behavioral therapy can help with so many conditions. CBT for anxiety, CBT for depression, and CBT for OCD are just three of many conditions that CBT therapy can improve.

Here are 5 Cognitive Behavioral Therapy tools that will help you get through the holidays with a little less stress.

  • Can you recognize the negative thoughts? Ask yourself, “How is this thought impacting me?” “When this thought comes-up what are the behaviors I do in relation to it?” “Is this helping me?”… This process starts by creating awareness instead of avoiding negative thoughts.
  • Recognize your thought patterns. Not recognizing patterns of thinking can get you stuck. In CBT, this stuck pattern of thinking is called cognitive distortion. These thoughts (distortions) can show up as: black and white thinking (there are only two options total success or total failure), overgeneralizing (They all, you all, always…), catastrophizing (this is going to be the worse, nothing good will come out of this) and minimizing or discounting the positive (it was insert something positive but insert the reason it’s not really positive…)  So every time you notice a distortion, point it out to yourself – if you can see the distortion, you can do something about it.


  • Reframing the thought. Our thoughts should help us get and do the things that bring us joy, or at least they shouldn’t hurt us. Reframing is taking a negative thought and moving the thought to something more helpful, maybe positive or even affirming. 

Step One: Follow tools 1 & 2

Step Two: Ask yourself what would you say to a friend? Would you poke holes in the thought with objectivity, can you truly tell, can you identify strengths, can you find exceptions that are positives, can you break it down into steps? Try this out, and I would bet that negative thought can’t hold its ground. 

5 Cognitive Behavioral Therapy tools

  • Give yourself a break – Identify your stress, and when levels are rising, take a break. The break can be a literal break like a 5-minute walk or even canceling plans in the name of mental health. The break can be breath work (don’t ignore the breath app on your apple device, recall that yoga instructor or google it) or give yourself a statement of support “this will be okay.”  
  • Finally, manage harmful behaviors if you find yourself doing things that don’t make you feel good (spending too much, drinking too much, or simply saying ‘yes’ when you know that you should really say ‘no’). Let this be the year you give yourself permission not to repeat the negative patterns. You can leave, say ‘no’ or simply tell someone how continuing this (whatever it is) makes you feel. Make room for a little more JOY! Happy Holidays from MUV Counseling and Selena Soni. If you find yourself stuck, it might be the right time to consider therapy. MUV Counseling offers in-person Scottsdale therapy or online therapy to individuals in Arizona and Oregon.


Selena Soni, LCSW Scottsdale therapist for anxiety, depression, stress and life transitions.
Selena Soni, LCSW is the founder and lead therapist at MUV Counseling. She specializes in helping clients overcome loss of self, anxiety, depression, and life transitions.

Selena has 15+ years experience in the mental health field. She received her Bachelors Degree from Portland State University (1999) and a Masters Degree in Social Work from Arizona State University (2005). Learn more about Selena here.

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