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Holiday Anxiety (1 of 5): Unrealistic Expectations

 Since I’m launching my new website as we approach the end of the year, I thought it would be helpful to start my new bi-monthly posts on something that is commonly called ‘Holiday Anxiety’. This is a term used to describe increased anxiety that many people experience from early November through the first week or two of January. For some it can start as early as the beginning of October.

Holiday Anxiety can be caused by any one or combination of the following:

  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Increased demands and activities
  • Lack of self-care
  • Difficult family gatherings
  • Emotions triggered by painful childhood associations

In this article I’ll talk about the first cause, unrealistic expectations, along with some practical steps you can take to reduce holiday anxiety caused by it. In the articles that follow, I’ll look at each of the sources of holiday anxiety along with practical steps you can take to quiet the anxiety generated by each. If you come from a troubled family, the last two will be especially important.

It’s easy to get caught up in what you think the holidays are supposed to be like and how you’re supposed to feel. If, in the past, you’ve run yourself ragged trying to live up to old holiday traditions, consider breaking with tradition and doing something different this year. So what if you don’t get the lights on the roof or don’t buy that special Christmas ornament for the kids? And do you really need to find the perfect gift for everyone on your gift list when most enjoy a simple gift certificate or gift card?

Instead of becoming focused on trivial things that cause you to miss the true purpose of the holiday season, take some time to think about what you want the holidays to be for you. For many this is simple the opportunity to reconnect with friends, family and be good to each other. Others also see it as a time for focusing on spiritual things. There are many ways to do this without exhausting yourself with what you think you should be or do. Take a few minutes to make a list of simple things that bring you joy so you can focus on them.

As you consider things to put on your list, decide whether it may be time to try something new and abandon traditions that you have long ceased enjoying. For example, let someone else prepare the Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner or have a potluck where everyone brings a dish. It may even be time to think about buying a pre-made dinner or going out to a restaurant. Instead of getting the entire extended family together, you may want to just spend time with friends or relatives you feel close to.

In part two of this series, I’ll look at ways to manage the increased demands and activities that occur at the end of the year more effectively.