The extra demands combined with the typical stress around the holidays can cause most of us to fall into the trap rigid thinking and the belief that life should be idyllic. If you struggle with anxiety, this season can be an especially difficult time. Perfectionism is something cognitive behavioral therapists see often. Here are some good CBT-based tips on how to help yourself during the rest of 2017
Do Not Strive For Perfect
Perfectionism is a self-imposed unrealistic expectation and the subsequent stringent judgments on you, others, or a situation. You are with yourself every day and you see every mistake you make, so we tend to have quite a long checklist of our real and perceived mishaps. When you focus on self-defeating thoughts, you become hypercritical and begin to put more weight on the negative aspects of oneself. Inevitably, this leads to depression, low-self esteem, and a sense of frustration. Of course, this isn’t beneficial to you and the people who love you. When you find yourself revisiting that list of mistakes, it’s time to combat them by a CBT technique termed a ‘positive data log’. Write down events that were ‘good enough’, or events that were just fine in spite of being imperfect you begin to be more flexible, and your all or nothing mindset can be reduced.
With so many social media apps, unrealistic advertising, and other messages promoting perfectionism, it’s impossible to not compare your life with an idealized sample of others. For perfectionists, it’s not easy to remember to take a step back and assess reality. When we engage in perfectionistic comparison, we typically measure ourselves next to someone we already think is ‘better’ in some way. However, all that time comparing can have real consequences. A recent study among Facebook and Twitter users showed 62% feel inadequate and 60% feel jealous when using social media. The same study found half of participants from 18-34 felt ugly due after time online.
Are co-workers, ex’s, or family on social media fueling your feelings of inadequacy and stress? If you want to kick perfectionism to the curb, un-follow your “competition”, and kindly remind yourself that social media is not a representation of reality, even if just over the holidays.
Temper Family Expectations
Family can cause a lot of distress around the holidays, and even more so when you have lofty expectations. There is already enough pressure around this time of the year without adding perfectionism to the mix. Remember, you can’t control the actions of your family, but you can control your own. Part of walking the walk is that you can identify and reduce acting and thinking in ways that are not productive.
Trying to change others can be akin to entering a faulty debit card pin at checkout. You are in a hurry, and your code won’t work. Instead of admitting defeat, you continue to enter the same thing with growing frustration. Your blood pressure is rising, as is that of the cashier and the people behind you in line. All of this stress and anxiety could have been avoided if you simply stopped repeating the same unproductive habits and expectations.
Beat Perfectionism by Shifting Perspectives- An Experiment in CBT
On days when everything goes wrong, take a minute to consider how much worse things could be to shift your negative perspective. The following are three other tricks to engage your positive lens.
1.Incorporate a daily gratitude practice. According to CBT research, gratitude improves mental health, emotional health, sleep, and self-esteem. Each morning, night, or both write down 5 things you are grateful for, and that is all.
2. Acknowledge Your Power. Cognitive behavioral therapists emphasize that it’s vital to recognize that we all have control to choose our perspectives. We choose which thoughts to pay attention. Reorienting yourself to the positive can add more value and warmth to the way you experience your life.
In Part 3, I’ll be discussing cognitive-behavioral approaches to coping with loneliness over the holidays. As always, please let me know how these tips work for you. Other ideas? Please share. Enjoy the rest of your month and experiment with your new tools. What to know more about cognitive behavioral therapy? Click here for an FAQ: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy/CBT in San Diego
Look around in any store and you’ll find early reminders of what’s ahead of us- spending quality time with we people love, great food, awesome parties, and the list goes on. Of course, these are what we all hope our holiday season will be made of, but that’s not always the case. Even in the best of situations, people struggle with excessive commitments, unrealistic expectations, and financial pressures. If any of those sound familiar, you may be wondering how to manage holiday stress this year. In this 4-part series, you will find a way to manage the top holiday mental health concerns and start your 2018 fresh instead of frazzled.
Part 1: Start Now, Not Later
Early November can feel too early to even consider digging into holiday preparation, but if you want to enjoy some bliss this December start the ball rolling now. Planning helps you take back control, and the time to plan your upcoming holiday season is here! It is much easier to attack the extra demands on your time early in the game. Why? You are more objective when you are not in a time crunch.
Tip #1: Give Yourself Time
One of the most effective ways to kick the holiday dumps is to use planning to your advantage. An important rule to use during this time of the year is to assume everything will take 2 times as long as you think. When you pull out your planner to arrange your upcoming errands, it can be hard to remember how time-consuming many of the demands are. This can lead to overbooking and excessive commitments, which leads to unnecessary stress and anxiety.
Tip #2: Don’t Forget Yourself
This may be the most important tip on the list. It is easy to get so caught up in the swirl of holiday activities you forget to spend time with yourself. However, reserving chunks of personal time will help you keep what is important in perspective. When we neglect to care for ourselves, falling into the familiar holiday blues becomes easier. Need ideas? Check out some clever ways to enjoy the moment in front of you.
Tip #3: Prioritize
This holiday season ask yourself honestly: what and who is truly important? What can go to theside if I begin to feel overwhelmed or rushed? Although it can be hard, learn to say no to things you do not actually want or need to do. If you are having trouble figuring out how to prioritize, look to your values. Values, not external expectations, will guide you during this time. Don’t know what your core values are? Here is a great exercise to use to figure out what is truly important to you, so that you can put your priorities in order.
Tip #4: Practice Mindful Gifting
We all know this state of awareness is the best way to go about our day. What you may not have known is you can also practice mindful gifting. When we have time to be leisurely about purchasing gifts, we tend to think more deeply about the person we are gifting for. If you take this time now, the gifts you give will mean
much more to the recipient and yourself. Set aside some chunks of time as soon as possible for reflection. During this time, make a list of each receiver and write down what they truly like and enjoy. If you do not yet know, keep an eye out for clues.
Holiday Stress and Depression
Holiday stress and depression can extend into your new year if not dealt with sooner than later. The aforementioned tips and tricks have helped me answer the question of how to manage holiday stress through planning. However, there may be times when you need more help to deal with your anxiety. Finding the best cognitive behavioral therapist for you can be another important tool in your box when dealing with the holiday blues.
Positive psychologists and cognitive behavioral therapists promote certain behaviors that prime the brain for happiness.
Shawn Achor is one of my personal heroes- you may have heard of him as the author of ‘The Happiness Advantage’ or through his infamous TED Talk which you can find here. After almost a half a century in the making, positive psychology is sweeping the mental health landscape and I couldn’t be more thrilled. Cognitive behavioral therapists, educators and behavioral scientists are adopting techniques, such as the ‘happiness advantage’ to help people shift their mindset towards the good.
A Cognitive Therapist’s Answer to “Why Can’t I Find Happiness?”
‘Happiness’ makes many think of smiles, the sunshine, material acquisitions, and absolute bliss. People often perceive ‘happy’ as being beyond our control, that it has to do with external factors or some level of intangible success. However, when you depend on external factors to reach this mysterious state, you set yourself up for fleeting joy but also long-term disappointment, which can lead to depression and anxiety.
Contentment does not have to be controlled by external factors, what you have achieved, or what you or someone else consider the ultimate success. Rather than telling yourself that happiness is something to wait for, or believing that a partner, weight loss, or more money will lead you there, you can train your brain to be positive in the here and now. According to Shawn, if your brain is focused on positivity, it performs 31% more productively than when it is negative, neutral, or stressed. With the happiness advantage, your intelligence, creativity, and energy levels rise. That said, it makes much more sense to focus on how happiness leads to success, instead of the other way around.
It makes sense that managing depression and anxiety can be approached in a different and more effective way- by creating a new internal reality. As you learn how to become more positive in the present, the solution may not seem as hard to achieve. Training your brain to be more positive is something you’ve already taught it to do other tasks until it becomes automatic. Have you ever catch your fingers hitting the ‘F’ for Facebook without even noticing? Reaching for the snooze button? These are both common examples of automatic thoughts.
Over time, reversing your formula for happiness in the now and leading your brain to focus on the present and the positive aspects is a mighty force. The trick is to act differently right now, and your brain will begin to become primed for success, which means that you will be able to work harder, faster, and more intelligently in the moment as well as long-term. One of the ways that your brain can be trained is to encourage the release of dopamine, which is a vital ‘feel good’ hormone. Dopamine has two functions: first, to make you happier and second, to trigger all of your learning centers in your brain- of course, you’ve already watched Shawn Achor’s TED Talk and know this, right?
When I work with clients who are looking for solutions to anxiety or depression, I make sure I focus on behaviors instead of feelings. There are several actions that can train your brain to produce more of that precious dopamine. Shawn asserts that if you practice a positive habit daily for 21 days in a row, you can build a habit and train your brain to be more positive. Three ways to achieve this are to:
Journaling- Write down one positive experience in the past 24-hours, so that your brain can relive that experience and start focusing on it. This habit teaches your brain that what you do and what actions you take each day matter.
Meditation- Take the time to slow down and meditate, giving your brain a chance to stop multitasking and to focus more on one task, such as the matter at hand. Opportunites to meditate are everywhere and are easier that you may think, as this article by Temma Ehrenfeld discusses.
Random act of kindness- Completing a conscious act of kindness can increase the dopamine levels in your brain, such as writing a positive email to a friend, praising a friend for something they accomplished, thanking someone for their support, or simply complimenting someone on their clothes or hair. Personally, this is one of my favorites. A few years ago I published an article on how volunteering can battle a sour mood. Do you live in my town of San Diego? Volunteer Match is a super way to get on it!
As the exercises above reflect, CBT helps you learn skills needed to be happier and more content. Behavioral interventions can be simple and if practiced every day, these types of activities help improve depressed moods and how to be happier in the present!
Happiness is within your control and is attainable with daily practice. Building some simple habits into your daily life will help you create that positivity and happiness that you desire. If you’ve already been influenced by Shawn Achor’s work, please comment below- I’d love to hear from you!
Our thoughts and feelings are powerful, how you perceive your world has a strong impact on our body chemistry. Established studies have shown cognitive behavioral therapy works at least as well as anti-depressants in helping people with mild to moderate depression!
The goal of cognitive therapy is learning to recognize then correct negative automatic thoughts and core beliefs.
Over time, the client will be able to discover and correct deeply held but unhelpful cognitions that contribute to the issues that are holding them back. The underlying premise of CBT is that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are deeply influenced by one another. Shifts in just one aspect of this triad can effectively reduce the negative patterns and build a powerful, more effective way of functioning.
There are lots of fun and fast ways to see how our behavior, thoughts and feelings intermingle- one of my favorites is the ‘Power Pose’. Amy Cuddy, a professor at Harvard Business School, discovered that posing like Wonder Woman or Superman for two minutes will rapidly increase your confidence….give it a whirl!