Between Halloween and New Years Day we are bombarded daily by images of holiday settings that include perfectly dressed, smiling people gathered around an elegantly decorated Christmas tree happily sharing a meal, exchanging gifts or singing Christmas carols. Although I am not as familiar with all the various holiday traditions observed around the world as I am with Christmas, my guess is there are similar, unspoken pressures to be perfect. One way to reduce holiday stress is to stop expecting perfection from ourselves and everyone else.
Even though we know intellectually, that the images found in the media of familes are unrealistic, (because every family has some sort of dysfunctional behavior going on) many of us still strive to create a perfect Christmas experience. We do everything in our power to create the ideal setting. We spend too much money, we spend too much time and we stress ourselves out by trying to do or control too much. We stuff our feelings down, force ourselves to be around people who upset us, go along with the crowd to please others and then wonder why we are feeling agitated, impatient, unappreciated or unhappy.
When our attempts at perfection fall short, we can become disillusioned and critical of ourselves. When we are critical of ourselves, we are likely to become critical and impatient with those around us. We can become so crabby; we don’t even want to be around ourselves. To get a handle on stress during the holidays, you have to pay attention to your feelings.
At the first sign of stress, notice what you are thinking or doing that is causing you to feel that way. Once you have identified the trigger(s), set limits for yourself. If decorating and/or entertaining for the Holidays is causing you to feel overwhelmed, set limits as to how much you will do and how much time and money you will spend. Ask for and accept help from others. It’s difficult for some of us to ask for or accept help. I want to encourage you to remember how good you feel when you help others and then give others the gift of feeling good about themselves by allowing them to help you.
If upcoming celebrations with your family have you feeling anxious because you know that spending more than an hour with your sister causes you to shut-down or revert to your timid, three year-old self, limit your time with her. If you can’t leave a function early or keep physical distance between the two of you at the family gathering, it might be time to set some boundaries with her. Think of it as a great opportunity to create a healthier relationship with your sibling. Setting strong, healthy boundaries with your sister is much more empowering than seeing yourself as a victim around her. Boundaries can be as simple as ignoring an unkind statement or changing the subject in answer to an inappropriate question. If you are ready to be more direct, try saying “I don’t want to discuss that today.” Follow your statement with a question directed to her that will move the discussion to something more pleasant. If she challenges your desire not to discuss something, you might be tempted to defend your position. Instead, simply tell her that it is just the way you feel about it and although you don’t expect her to understand or agree, you would appreciate it if she would respect your request. Let her deal with her own hurt or angry feelings. She will be okay and you will have taken a step toward having healthier boundaries and maybe a better relationship with her.
Think of holiday activities as a mosaic work of art. Mosaics are made of many pieces of broken colored glass. Each piece of glass is imperfect, but that does not diminish the beauty of the finished art. Instead it is beautiful because of the imperfections. Relax! Allow yourself and others to be perfectly imperfect this Holiday Season.