Updated: Dec 12, 2019
The holiday season is in full swing, and people are hustling and bustling trying to get everything done. During the holidays, it seems that our expectation for perfection is at an all-time high, and if you are like most people you are feeling the pressure. Not only are you dealing with typical day to day stressors, but the extra events, to-dos, and changes in routine are overwhelming.
If you are feeling the pressure, you are not alone. Often these expectations for perfection are fueled by the “shoulds” we tell ourselves. Check out some of the most common "shoulds" people experience throughout the holidays, and ideas for how to deal with them!
"I should be at every event and make everyone happy."
The holiday season is jam-packed full of obligations on top of dealing with the end of the year at work and school. Because of the sheer number of things going on, it can be extremely overwhelming to participate in everything — set limits for yourself on what you will and will not attend. We often feel guilty if we don't go to an occasion, but that is our "shoulds" talking. It is okay to say no if you do not want or need to go to an event. You will feel empowered by allowing yourself to make decisions about your time.
"I should get along with my family (in-laws included!)"
There is often a significant emphasis on spending time with your family around the holidays. People tend to go to their childhood homes, which can lead to them falling back into their patterns from childhood. Not only that, family members might have unrealistic expectations for you or about the holidays that don't fit your needs. It is essential to set limits with family members. I encourage my clients to go into the holiday season with defined boundaries in mind concerning their emotional wellbeing, time, and resources. Don't allow the expectations of others to force you to do something that doesn't feel comfortable. If you have these boundaries in mind before the situation, you will feel more comfortable saying no to things you do not want to do. Also, remember that you don't have to get along with everyone. Just because they are family does not mean you always have to like them.
"This holiday season should be perfect!"
Many of us feel the holidays should be this time where everyone gets along, you find the perfect gift, and overall you have this sense of magic. This expectation can ultimately feel like a ton of pressure, and there is a considerable amount of disappointment if things do not turn out like the fantasy in your head. It is essential during this time to focus on what you truly want/need to get out of the holidays, whether that be connecting with old friends, spending time with loved ones, or giving back to the community. So take a deep breath, be present, and try to focus on what you want out of the season emotionally, physically, and mentally.
"I should be in a relationship and/or this season should be romantic."
There is a lot of pressure to be in a relationship during the holidays. Many of us feel the holidays are supposed to be a fantasy straight out of a Hallmark Christmas movie, where we meet a prince/princess, are surrounded by a light dusting of snow, and live happily ever after. Unfortunately, Hallmark sells fantasy rather than reality, and meeting that expectation is insanely difficult. It can leave us feeling alone or disappointed by what is missing, rather than grateful for what we have. Instead of trying to find the perfect someone for the holidays, reach out to those you care about and spend time with people you value. Also, spend time reflecting and expressing gratitude for the happy and healthy relationships you have in your life.
"I should get everyone the best/most expensive gift."
If you are like me, shopping for others is extremely difficult because of two things. 1. I never know what to get anyone, and 2. Gifts are not my love language, so they don't feel necessary to me! Also, most people feel overwhelmed because they are expected to spend outside their normal budget during the month of December. This financial stress and pressure to achieve the perfect gift leads to a lot of angry people at the mall. I encourage people to set a budget for what they want to spend on each person before shopping. Having an idea in mind of what you feel comfortable with will allow you to set yourself up for financial success, and lower stress. Sometimes the most meaningful gift can be spending quality time with a person you love.
"I should be happy."
There is a lot of pressure to be happy throughout the holiday season. Which, with all of the added stress going on, it can be challenging to find joy. If you are alone around this time of year, it can feel even more isolating and disheartening because it feels as though everyone else has a place to belong. It is more important than ever to take care of yourself during this time. Set aside 10 to 20 minutes a day (or more) to do self-care and replenish yourself. Also, throughout the holidays, do your best to maintain a routine. You will feel better about yourself because you will feel more in control of everything going on around you. Another important aspect is being aware of your healthy habits during this time. We tend to overindulge around the holidays, so maintaining your exercise habits or trying a new one can allow you to feel better about yourself. Also, if you do overindulge, don't beat yourself up. (You are only human, and cookies are amazing.)
"I shouldn't be overwhelmed… everyone else has it together."
It often appears that everyone else has it together, but if you looked inside their heads, you might find that they are as stressed as you are. Most of the time we see people looking as though they have everything under control, thanks to social media mostly. However, it's important to remind ourselves that we see things the way people want them to appear, not the way that they actually are. You are doing fine! However, if you are feeling out of control and overwhelmed, make a list of the things you need to get done. From the master list, divide it down into the few things you want to get done each day. This can make your tasks seem more manageable. Finally, take a few deep breaths! You can do this!
-Brittany Harp, MA LPC