Using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to Manage Holiday Stress

By Kacie Mitterando, LMSW

Holidays are stressful. In fact, in a recent study it was discovered that over a quarter of Americans report “extreme stress” during holiday season and a remarkable 45% would prefer to skill the holidays altogether (1).


Holidays can also be exciting, entertaining and even an opportunity for much needed relaxation with family and friends (especially if they’re some you haven’t seen in a while). However, there’s no denying that the stress can pile up especially if you’re someone who’s already experiencing anxiety.


While the Hallmark Channel and having dinner with loved ones can be fun, the holidays also lead to the feeling of a never-ending to-do list. There’s the responsibility of entertaining guests, cooking, shopping and often times traveling. Additionally, almost all of these occurrences cost money and after a while those little costs here and there may add up to what can feel like a financial burden.


On the other end, often times the holidays can feel extremely lonely. It’s no secret that each family has their own arguments, disagreements and imperfect ways of coping so coming together in forced harmony and peace can easily become not enjoyable.

Below are some tips that might ease a bit of the burden you’re feeling:


If your holiday stress is unpleasant family members:

The holidays are a great place to practice the Cognitive Behavioral Skills you may have learned in therapy. Interacting with family members is a great place to practice reframing.

In a Pyschology Today article by Hal Shorey PhD, shares some top tips for reframing interactions with family members.

  1. Consider lowering your expectations to match the world as it is, instead of your dream of how it should be.

  2. Take responsibility for what you are thinking and what you are saying to yourself in your head. Change the way you think and you will change your emotions and how you behave.

  3. Ask yourself, “what would happen if I let that comment go and don’t respond? Would it really make a difference in the long run?”

Allow each person that is unpleasant or unhealthy for you to be a chance to practice your coping skills and communication. Let’s face it; we’re not going to enjoy everyone we need to be around all the time. Therefore, if we can use the moments where we are in this position to run-through positive techniques, we’ll become more equipped and confident for the next time we’re faced with this dilemma.


If your holiday stress is that you’re feeling lonely:

If you’re away from family that you want to see, open the door for new ways to communicate. Think of possibly Face Timing these family members for dessert or even creating a Facebook Live session where multiple family members can join in. Often, there are other people in our social networks that are away from family as well, such as coworkers. Taking a chance with someone you may not normally spend as much time with could end up being an unexpectedly pleasant experience.


If your holiday stress is that you’re packed with too many responsibilities and commitments:

Stick with your daily routines and ultimately, do less of the “mandatory” holiday obligations. Work with your therapist or talk to someone about better prioritization.

Prioritize what is important to you during the not-holiday season, such as working out or spending your Wednesday nights catching up on your favorite TV shows. Studies show that our brains actually thrive off of habits and routines; therefore, it may help to reduce some stress if you continue to do what feels comfortable. While we often go overboard during the holidays- an abundance of shopping, sending out cards and attending each and every event we get an invite to- pick one responsibility that feels too much and tell yourself “no” this year. Use the time you would have spent on this event/activity to do something for YOU instead.


If your holiday stress is that your anxiety/depression is becoming too much to handle:

First, think of some of the small things you can incorporate into your days to decrease some of the anxiety/depression you may be experiencing- such as going for a run, practicing meditation and getting adequate sleep. However, if your mental health is feeling like “too much” and these coping skills aren’t significantly reducing your worries and concerns, talk to a mental health professional. With New Years coming up, now is the ideal time to make the commit to begin to address your mental health with therapy.

Most importantly don’t be afraid to ask for help.

If you’re traveling and will be away from the area during this holiday season while still seeking support, we currently offer video sessions and will be happy to meet online.

Also, if you are in a crisis and please contact National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

They can help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.


1. Holiday Stress | Managing Holiday Stress | Stress During the Holidays. (2018, August 09). Retrieved from