It’s the most wonderful time of the year… right??? What a loaded little jingle that is! For many of us the holiday season is full of wonder and joy, but what we don’t see behind the gorgeous decorated tree or the impeccable table scape is the stress and strain that can come with the expectation of a “perfect” holiday.
This season, and all that comes with it, can be incredibly taxing on us. There are many reasons the holidays bring stress, I could write for days about loss, family strain, and more, but I would like to focus here on the idea that we have to have the perfect holiday. Believe me when I say that this expectation is so strong that it drives many into my office each year. So how can we avoid it?
Here are a few tips:
- Set Your Expectations
Take some time to sit down and write out what a “successful” or “happy” holiday season would look like. Really think about what would bring joy to you and others around you. Is it truly a perfectly cooked meal, or is it more about quality time together? Is it about getting the gift of a year, or making memories that will last far beyond. Be realistic, take into account the things you can’t control (family, weather, illness, etc…) and then…
- Let Go
While making your list, as well as during the actual celebrations, actively try to let go of the things you have no control over, the things that don’t go how you wanted them, and the unexpected mishaps. Although things may not have gone how you wanted them, hanging on to the disappointment, anger, or blame (towards yourself or others) will only continue to cast a shadow over your celebration. If something unexpected or unwanted happens, take some time to take care of yourself. You might need a quiet second to yourself to readjust or maybe revisit your expectation list from above. You can take a deep breath and imagine the negativity as leaves floating away on a river or clouds passing by the in sky. Allow them to leave, and if they return just repeat the image.
- Your Experience Matters Too
So many of us go so far out of our way to make the holidays special for others that we ourselves are miserable. You matter. Make yourself matter. In the end your family wants to enjoy the time with you and you want to enjoy it with them. If you are completely exhausted, stressed, or cranky this won’t happen. Ask for help, simplify your list, and let go of what isn’t needed so you can enjoy yourself too.
- Be Present
In those special moments, really, truly, be there. Smell the scent of the tree, taste the hot cocoa, watch the flames dance on the menorah candles, pay attention to your children’s joy as they open presents, feel the warmth of your cozy socks. Whatever it is, be there for it! Being in the present moment gives our stressed out nervous system a break and also connects us to what is truly important about this season.
Sending Wishes of Peace and Joy for the Season!
Abby Withee is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist practicing in Rolling Hills Estates and Redondo Beach. With a focus on mindful practices, Abby works with children, adolescents, adults, and families to address a variety of diagnoses and presenting issues. For more resources, check out her blog!