The holiday season seems to come upon us earlier and earlier each year. Even before Thanksgiving, I started to notice all of the signs — colorful lights strung in front of houses, a glimpse of lit trees through windows and cheerful holiday tunes on the radio. Along with the high spirits the holiday season, a package of stress often arrives. This is especially true for divorced couples that struggle over how to make plans that optimize the holidays for themselves and, of course, their children — who want nothing more than normality. Read more
The holiday season stereotypically has always been portrayed as a time of fun, joy and warmth with family, friends and colleagues. But it can also be a time of pain and high expectations. And the inevitable disappointments that follow those expectations are often to blame for holiday stress, which has gradually, but now permanently become part of our lexicon.
High hopes about the holiday season — the expectations you put on yourself, as well as on others around you — may magnify whatever is already not going right in your life. And remember this about all expectations: they are a nothing more than premeditated disappointments. For instance; if you’re having financial difficulties, a family conflict, relationship issues or health problems – added expectations that convert to disappointments about the holidays could push your existing stress over the limit.
So resist the urge to set yourself up for more disappointment by comparing this year to the best holiday season of your life, for example. Also, avoid making self-defeating comparisons between yourself and people whom you imagine to be happier than you, have better relationships, great family moments or more money. Comparing your reality with someone else’s image is an almost sure fire way to trigger feelings of disappointment in you.
Instead, consider how you can make the best of your own situation. For example, if you’re alone for the holidays, try volunteering to help make the season a little nicer for someone in greater need. Opportunities abound to volunteer at senior centers, hospitals, shelters, churches and you get the idea. People who volunteer to help others usually find it to be an extremely gradifying experience.
And remember it’s okay to be a little selfish, too. For example, buy yourself a holiday present, or indulge yourself by taking a bubble bath, reaching out to old friends you may have lost contact with, reading a book, learning a new skill, perhaps by even cooking a favorite meal for yourself or however you most enjoy your own solitude.
Holiday stress can also come in the form of too many obligations. If you’re overwhelmed by everyone else’s expectations to spend time with relatives or friends, try to remember that there’s only one of you and you can’t be all things to all people. But you can surely burn yourself out by trying. Limit your commitments, simplify your schedule, and prioritize your activities. Even with loved ones, don’t be afraid to graciously decline or reduce burdensome obligations.
No matter what your holiday plans, try to maintain a sense of humor as reality inevitably crashes into your expectations. So manage those expectations. Keep them realistic. And remember, the less you expect, the freer and more lighthearted you will feel.
Whether you love the holiday season, hate it or anything in between, never forget this one truism: all seasons have a beginning, a middle and an end. In other words, this too shall pass!
Wishing you a holiday with less expectations (aka stress) and thereby more sparkle and joy!
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Michael S. Broder, Ph.D.
1420 Locust Street
Philadelphia, PA 19102
Toll Free: 800-434-8255