The holiday season is a time when we pile in the car, drive around our neighborhood, look at the fairy land that is Christmas, and marvel at the creativity of our neighbors. The shops are filled with endless gift opportunities, and the scent of pine trees and gingerbread cookies wafts through our home. 

It is also when many of us try to live up to quite unrealistic expectations. We want to make Christmas time memorable for our little ones, enjoy a home filled with family and friends, and make it a wonderful time for all who enter through the wreath-strung door. 

I honestly believe the only perfect Christmas is in a Hallmark movie. The reality is, the holiday season can be downright stressful at best, grey hair producing for many! 

There have been times when my wife and I would much rather skip the day entirely, get into our comfy clothes, kick back at home, and enjoy a fine wine together, and there are others who may agree with me. This plan never quite pans out for me, and I want to offer you some tips on how to avoid the stomach-churning, headache-inducing stress that can be the holiday season.

Each year, around the middle of November, I begin to notice a change in some of my patients. Their stress levels rise as they grapple with the high expectations they set for themselves for the upcoming holiday season, and this takes a toll, both mentally and physically. 

There is so much that plays on your mind this time of year: food, gifts, the added expense, and, of course, dealing with the challenges of hosting family and friends in the home. 

In this article, we’ll delve into the problems associated with excessively high self-expectations and provide strategies to reduce holiday-related tension, making the season more manageable and enjoyable.

The Perils of High Self-Expectations

Setting excessively high self-expectations, both mentally and physically, can take a toll on your overall well-being. It’s essential to recognize the problems this can cause and to learn how to manage these expectations.

  • Mental Expectations: Many of people undue pressure on themselves to create the “perfect” holiday experience, from meticulously decorated homes to flawlessly prepared meals. The constant pursuit of perfection can lead to feelings of inadequacy and stress.
  • Physical Expectations: Physically, the holiday season can be exhausting. Preparing large dinners, hosting guests, cleaning, playing referee when the kids argue, and participating in the numerous activities we may be invited to can be tiring. Overcommitting and neglecting self-care can result in burnout and feelings of resentment.

Coping with Hosting Family

Having family come to stay during the holidays can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you may love your family; on the other, you can’t wait for them to leave! Here are tips to help you manage tension in your own home and make the experience more enjoyable for everyone:

  • Effective Communication: Clear communication is essential. Set boundaries and expectations for the visit, such as how long each family member stays, discuss routines and child care duties, help out in the kitchen, how family can help out by contributing to the food cost and address any potential conflicts before they escalate.
  • We all Need Personal Space: Ensure you and your guests have personal space and downtime. Setting boundaries is essential, such as explaining to your guests that your bedroom is off-limits so you can retreat to that space when needed. Or explain in advance that you need to crash for half an hour during the day to recharge. If people understand this, they are more likely to respect your boundaries than wonder where you are and come looking. 
  • Respect Differences: Inevitably, family members will not always see eye to eye. People have diverse beliefs, traditions, and preferences. Use empathy by looking at their viewpoint to understand their opinion and avoid imposing your values on others. Embrace the diversity that makes the holiday season rich and meaningful.
  • Adjust your Expectations: How many of us have that one family member who had a little too much egg nog, got wobbly legs, and began reminiscing about the ‘good old days’ before falling asleep mid-sentence and filling the room with a cacophony of snores. Or, the one Uncle who loves to brag about his many successes while following you from room to room as you try to get Christmas lunch prepared. As much as we value family, they can drive us to our limits. Try to accept their flaws or limitations. Understand that they will irritate you, and when this happens, acknowledge your feelings and take some time away for yourself. You can’t change who they are but can change how you react. 
  • Delegate Tasks: Share responsibilities. Assign specific tasks, such as meal preparation or decorating, to involve everyone and reduce the burden on yourself.

Reducing Tension, is it Time to Dial Things Back?

We all want to make our Christmas something to remember; however, sometimes it feels like expectation exceeds reality. Do we need to run ourselves ragged, making so many different kinds of desserts? Will anyone care if the front yard isn’t decorated? Most of the time, family members just want to spend time with you and enjoy your company. It is important to remember that not everything needs to be perfect. It is far better to let some things go than to run yourself ragged.

  • Set Realistic Expectations: Instead of striving for perfection, aim for a realistic and enjoyable holiday experience. Understand that not everything has to go flawlessly.
  • Prioritize Self-Care: I know I covered this, but I will repeat it: Take time to look after yourself. Rest, relax, and engage in activities that rejuvenate you. This will save you from collapsing into a heap after your guests leave, you can enjoy the holidays and look forward to next year.
  • Learn to Say No: It’s okay to decline some invitations or trim down your holiday commitments. Setting boundaries and prioritizing your well-being is essential.
  • Focus on Meaning: Rediscover the true meaning of the holiday season. Spend quality time with loved ones and create cherished memories. In 10 years, no one will remember how perfect the tree was. They will however remember how lovely it was to sit by the fireplace, exchanging stories and enjoying the bond you share.

The holiday season should be a time of joy, not exhaustion. By managing your self-expectations, effectively coping with hosting family, and dialing back your holiday celebrations, you can create a more balanced and enjoyable experience. Remember, it’s about quality, not quantity, and the most precious moments often come from genuine connections with loved ones, free from the burden of excessive expectations.

If you would like to learn more about managing your expectations and how to cope with conflict, especially in your relationship, download our mini-course: Rise Above the Chaos and Embrace your Inner Smile.

In this course, we emphasize the importance of centering your mind and body, creating a state of mental and physical calm. We teach you the value of being mindful of your emotions and the importance of acting objectively rather than subjectively. Additionally, we explore concepts such as “dropping the bone”, mastering the art of taking the high road in an argument, and how to deflect sarcasm. While these skills are a crucial part of every relationship they are often overlooked. Here we guide you and help you develop these essential skills so that you can rely on them when stress and conflict inevitably arise.

Our entire course is also available on our website, as well as books, our blog, and other classes., follow the link, and start your journey to a harmonious relationship.