We have arrived at the time of year whose accelerated pace is supposed to generate a dizzy euphoria. Unfortunately, the thing that most people experience is not so much the euphoria as the dizziness. While we often labor under the expectations that everything should be “perfect”, it is worth examining who is really responsible for these expectations. They do not appear magically, but instead are the products of our own wishes and doomed desire to prove our own infallibility.
While some people undertake a more simplified, homespun, and/or reserved approach to the season, some vestiges of the desire for perfection may remain. For example, people who make their own gifts become obsessed with hiding the telltale signs that the gift is indeed homemade. Others become over-committed to projects, feeling everything must be done “from scratch”. People in such situations are unable to relax because they do not give themselves permission to do so; “laziness” is simply not condoned.. In an age where people’s schedules are already tight due to multiple jobs, family responsibilities, and an implicit demand for quick and savvy responses to problem issues, there is often little time left over for leisurely attending to the details of the traditional holiday celebration. People carve out precious time where they can, but generally cannot change gears from their usual swift pace to the holiday one. As a result, they tend to simply carry it with them, and try to make everything “fit”, despite the attendant stress and pressure.
We are also often struggling with the message from childhood that we can only be rewarded at the holidays if we are “good” and “do everything right”. This belief is probably quite ingrained, and tends to keep all of us on our toes at the holidays. However, even though children feel especially compelled to behave to insure their visit from Santa, they do not lose their sense of fun and become the slaves of duty, as do many of the grimly determined adult shoppers and errand-runners who abound in the streets and malls.
Much has been written about “the inner child”, and this is certainly a season when that part of ourselves may be allowed to run riot, even in a disguised form. It is perhaps a time to relinquish some of the compulsion for perfection, and settle into a greater acceptance of your own limits. If these are acknowledged in a spirit of merriment, they will be more readily accepted by others than you might imagine. In addition, try to separate out real (and realistic!) expectations. Finally, try to trade your anxiety for the similar but ultimately much more beneficial feeling of anticipation. This can lead to satisfaction over a holiday well-spent, as opposed to dissatisfaction over personal shortcomings. This change in your mindset may turn out to be one of the best presents you can receive, and you are the only person who can give it. It’s also a gift that can be appreciated by everyone around you.
Elizabeth Peterson-Vita, Ph.D.