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Coping with Holiday Expectation Stress

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas and that can mean: a) someone will yet again buy us an ugly pair of socks, and; b) we’ll have to contend with an ugly load of Holiday Expectation Stress.

Okay, I confess I just made up HES to name that exhausting feeling our holidays aren’t living up to the expectations of family, friends or, most depleting, ourselves. When we focus too much energy on living up to the expectations of others, and not enough on our own needs and hopes for the holidays, HES creeps into our minds like the Grinch into Whoville.

Battling thoughts of I’m not doing enough or I’m not doing what I enjoy can leave us a stressed, overwhelmed, and depleted lump of coal. Each season, I try to alleviate my HES by mindfully focusing on fun seasonal things, expected or not, that help me feel less stressed and more able to enjoy the holidays. Here are a few...

Every December I try to dodge the seemingly unavoidable expectation I should watch It’s a Wonderful Life, even though I’ve long been over Clarence and his bell. I have to watch it, right? Well, no, what happens in Bedford Falls stays in Bedford Falls. I’m more likely to settle down with something nontraditional like The Nightmare Before Christmas or Home for the Holidays instead.

That said, my annual holiday watch is the classic 1964 animated Rudolph the Red–Nosed Reindeer. I know, it’s schmaltzy, but I feel a personal affection for the Island of Misfit Toys and the message that, no matter how “misfit” we feel, we always have value to someone. Rudolph not only brings back warm memories of childhood, it celebrates individualism and unconditional love.

Spending time with valued and mutually-supportive people helps us cope not just during December but the other 11 months too. At the same time, some of us are more intro- than extroverted and wither in situations where HES + extreme merriment = sensory overload. For me, too much festivity is just too much. Low-key time with close friends is much more likely to bring joy to my world.

It’s okay to stay home and/or limit anxiety-provoking holiday social gatherings. Consider bucking traditional expectations and hosting a few like-minded friends for a laid-back game night, popcorn stringing, eggnog tasting – whatever keeps you stress-free, out of the cold, and warm inside.

Is making candy a coping skill? It can be for me. During childhood Christmases, my Mom and I made divinity, a fluffy, hard-to-describe confection. Now, I break out the recipe only in December because I want to save and savor the experience during the holidays like mini-me did. Making divinity takes several hours, a robust mixer, and all my bowls and counter space, but it’s worth it. The once-a-year chaos, far from enhancing HES, dispels it instead with cheering memories of past Christmases spent messing up the kitchen without getting in trouble.

It’s a perfect indoor activity for a frosty winter day. Invite those subdued friends over (remember them?) and spend the afternoon covered in powdered sugar. Plus, having divinity on-hand means you can ingest all the sugar you need to power through to New Year’s. #divinityftw

My Mom and Grandmother could turn tree and house decorating into all-day affairs, but my style is minimalist and therefore less stressful. Remember the scraggly branch with a single ornament that was Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree? Mine’s not quite that bare, but I keep it simple with a mini artificial fir and leave the overkill to Rockefeller Center.

I’ve also been known to skip the tree altogether and instead bestow holiday cheer on my (numerous) spider plants, philodendrons and other houseplants. Get creative and bedeck your indoor greenery with tiny ornaments and battery-operated LED lights. It adds color and playfulness to grey winter days and, best of all, no sharp pine needles to vacuum up.

Feeling overwhelmed by HES is no way to spend your holidays. The season shouldn’t be defined by how successfully we indulge external expectations and pack as much festivity as possible into these few weeks. I hope my Holiday Expectation Stress-busters can inspire you to find your own anti-anxiety activities, indulge them, and wrap up a low-stress holiday season you’ll remember warmly throughout the coming year.

If the holiday season has you in need of help, consider reaching out for a free consultation today.

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