The Christmas holiday season is a great time to relax and enjoy good times with family and friends. It also offers many opportunities to practice psychological skills which sometimes get neglected during the rest of the year. In the following sections, I will discuss how you can practice several psychological skills this holiday season.
Behavioural activation skills
The holidays offer many opportunities to engage in behavioural activation skills. These are skills from cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which involve engaging in activities which are good for your mood and which allow you to recharge your emotional batteries. This, in turn, is a buffer to protect you from issues with depression and stress management.
Activities such as socializing with family and friends, listening to Christmas carols and watching holiday movies provide an opportunity to appreciate the positive effects of behavioural activation on your mood and ability to manage stress.
Skills to capture pleasure
Capturing pleasure involves becoming absorbed in something which is pleasing to the senses—sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. The Christmas holidays offer many opportunities to capture pleasure with sights (staring at a blazing fire in a fireplace, looking at the stars or Christmas lights), sounds (listening to a crackling fire or Christmas music), scents (of a Christmas tree or Christmas dinner/dessert baking), tastes (Christmas dinner, holiday cookies), and touch (curling up on a couch, hugging your loved ones). Not surprisingly, capturing pleasure through your various senses has been found to have positive effects on mood.
Skills to manage urge and cravings
If you are trying to make progress on issues involving overeating or drinking, the holidays offer opportunities to practice skills to manage your urges and cravings. Applying these skills at holiday parties and get-togethers with plentiful food and drinks can help you gain confidence that you can ‘ride out’ or ‘surf’ your urges without giving into them. ‘Delay and distract’ is one such skill in which you delay acting on your urge and distract yourself with an absorbing alternative activity until your urge drops to a more manageable level.
If you happen to act on your urges on one or more occasions, you can practice skills which help you to stay on track toward your goal despite these ‘lapses’. These skills include using balanced thinking and self-talk. For example, if you are feeling down after having acted on your urges you can say to yourself, ‘Even though I acted on my urges this time, I was able to manage them several other times using my skills I and can learn from this situation how to handle it better next time’.
Skills to help you handle challenging situations
The holidays can be stressful for some people because of challenging situations such as having to interact with family, friends or co-workers who you don’t enjoy being around. The PR plan is a skill which will help you cope with these situations. This skill is comprised of three steps:
1. Predict challenges you may have to deal with at a particular upcoming event. For example, you might predict that at a holiday gathering a relative you don’t like will try to engage you in conversation.
2. Prepare steps you can take to cope with the challenges you predicted. In this example, you might prepare conversation topics which could make being around the person more tolerable as well as ways to tactfully and effectively exit the conversation if required.
3. Practice the coping strategies you have prepared for each of your predicted challenges so that you will be ready to use them at the event. You can do this practice through mental rehearsal using visualization and by role-playing scenarios yourself or with someone you trust.
Using the PR plan should help you to feel less anxious in advance of these challenging situations and to be more confident in handling them if they occur.
These are just some of the psychological skills you can practice over the holiday season. They are the same skills I help my clients learn and practice in my work as a Calgary psychologist and a Cochrane psychologist.
May you and yours have a Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday,