Surviving Xmas – the CBT Approach

christmas and cbt

CBT is in high demand during Xmas as it is portrayed as an unrealistically happy time of year, but many people find it extremely stressful.  Especially CBT for couples, family relationship or loneliness all comes to it’s right at this time of year. What does CBT tell us that you can do to reduce these problems?

I can’t stand family get-togethers!

At family get-togethers, simmering problems can flare up into major rows. If there are unspoken problems in your partnership or family, a CBT plan to try to address them before they escalate can reduce tensions. Ideally, find time before the Xmas break to discuss difficulties and find solutions to them.  Remember that trying to suppress problems rarely works – they usually blow up into a major row, especially after one too many Xmas drinks. CBT tells us that having a plan to prevent excessive alcohol intake makes it more likely we will succeed in managing our consumption.

Adult parent-child relationships

It’s easy for adult children and their parents to fall into old patterns of relationships, with both sides acting as though the children were six years old.  Each part needs to treat the other with respect and remember to act towards the other party as you would towards any other adult. Catch anything that runs through your mind about the person/people like to irritate you and use CBT skills to rephrase the thought more realistically. Perhaps it’s not realistically that “they are irritating” but that we feel stressed?

Couple enjoying each other after Couples Therapy


Plan activities so that there’s something for different age groups to enjoy.  If the children usually get under your feet, delegate one or more adults to organise activities/games for them. Physical activities that wear them out are ideal.  Teenagers can find family get-togethers dull, so make sure that they get the chance to see friends or others the same age.

The person you can’t stand

If there’s one member of your family who particularly winds you up, spend as little time as possible in their undiluted company if you cannot resolve problems beforehand, rope in another adult to support you.  If things start boiling up, try to remain calm (CBT research tells us to use slow breathing to calm our body reactions) and state your position assertively rather than shouting or screaming.  Try using the XYZ formula ‘When you do x, I feel y, so I’d prefer if you did z’.  For instance, ‘When you leave the dirty dishes on the table and go off to play on the computer, I feel angry and unsupported, so I’d prefer you to help clear up before going.’

Set limits

If you’re hosting the family get-together, decide how long feels comfortable to have guests in your home.  Invite people for specific times or dates, such as 1-6 pm, or Xmas Eve till Boxing Day.  Don’t try and organise everything yourself.  Get others to contribute to catering and entertaining arrangements, preparing some of the courses or meals.

Woman alone at Christmas needing CBT

I’m dreading being alone at Xmas.

Single people sometimes feel lonely at Xmas, because it’s portrayed as such a family time.  If this is likely to be the case for you, try all avenues of arranging to be with other people. This can include visiting relatives or friends or organising your alternative get-together for singles and others.  If none of these is practicable for you, there are many organisations (e.g. soup kitchens) that welcome volunteers at Xmas with open arms.  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.

CBT advises us to catch any unhelpful thoughts you have and find a more realistic alternative. If all else fails, remember that Xmas is just another day.  It’s all over in 24 hours, and you can get back to your normal life after it.

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