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Harvard Commentaries
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Harvard Commentaries
Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School


Holiday Stress


December 10, 2009

Stress
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2009-12-10
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InteliHealth Medical Content
2011-12-10

Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

Learning To Worry Less

If you take steps to reduce holiday angst and you still feel too much stress, both during and after the holidays, you may have a problem with anxiety. Anxiety can be treated with psychotherapy, medication or a combination of the two. Cognitive-behavioral therapy works to correct errors in thinking that can cloud your perceptions.

Many thoughts are automatic and rapid, so rapid, in fact, that they escape your attention. When automatic thinking works well, it is on target and saves time. But automatic thinking can cause distress if you learned erroneous and self-defeating ways of thinking early in life.

For instance, a shy person might attend a large holiday party. Upon entering the room, she might see a crowd of strangers. Without her noticing, she tells herself, “I don’t know anybody here. These people aren’t safe. I’ll feel awkward and won’t have anything to say.” She might not even be aware of these deeply ingrained thought patterns, but she certainly notices her own rising discomfort.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy can teach her to examine how she thinks, slow her thoughts down, correct her distorted thinking and help her to make observations that are more accurate. For example, she might try instead to think, “Here’s a crowd of people. They seem to be having a good time. There must be one or two nice ones among them. I remember I did wonderfully at a party just three weeks ago.”

People with relatively mild cases of anxiety can try a self-help book. But if you have deep-seated anxiety, you’ll want the help of a psychologist or psychiatrist, to evaluate what blend of psychotherapy and medication might be best for you.

 

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