Do you love Christmas but it stresses you out?
Do you feel your anxiety increasing when the decorations start being put up in the shops and the first Chocolate Santa is on supermarket shelf?
What makes Christmas stressful? It's the same thing that can make the rest of your life stressful! Expectations.
Carrying around the ‘shoulds’ and ‘have to’ of Christmas is exhausting, stressful and can cause anxiety. There are ways to manage this, particularly using mindful awareness and self-compassion and create some Christmas calm.
Let us take a closer look.
Whether you are turning yourself inside out to have things perfect for everyone, provide presents you can't really afford, or spending time with people you would rather not, the expectations at Christmas can really weigh you down
Expectations at Christmas
What things do you have to do at Christmas? Visit both sides of the family on Christmas Day? To be in more than one place on the day, even though your children just want to stay home with their toys? To be bright and cheerful, even when you've stayed up past midnight waiting for your children to go to sleep so Santa can come? To appreciate whatever gifts you are given, even if it's an iron? Or are you expected to bite your tongue when Uncle Jack has too much drink and the nastier side comes out? Maybe your budget doesn't stretch to the presents on your children's wish lists.....
Whether you are turning yourself inside out to have things perfect for everyone, provide presents you can't really afford, or spending time with people you would rather not, the expectations at Christmas can really weigh you down.
What are expectations? And why do they have such a strong hold on you?
Expectations are one way society and families encourage behaviour and growth for the good of your development as a child and teenager, and that of the community. The broad aim is for you to become a functional human being who makes a positive contribution to society. Expectations are guidelines, written and unwritten rules about behaviour. For example you are expected to walk before the age of 12-15 months and be talking before starting kindergarten. You are expected to do your homework, obey the teacher, eat your dinner etc…. You are expected to obey the law, be a good neighbour, a good friend.
Then there are individual family differences based on culture, religion, family structure, birth order, personality etc. For example in some cultures girls are expected to be married young, and not pursue further education.
As you entered adolescence you probably rebelled at many/some of these expectations, but you probably also carried many of them into adulthood.
In adulthood, on top of family of origin and society expectations you now have expectations from your work place and expectations from your partner, and maybe your children. It can be overwhelming.
What can you do to make this Christmas easier, this Christmas calmer?
First, step back. Give yourself the opportunity to respond, rather than to react.
What happens when you simply observe and notice all the expectations and it feels to have them?
Look at them again. Where have they come from? Are they necessary, important, do they add to your life?
Stepping back gives you the space to see what expectations are serving you, and which have no meaning for you.
Seeing this you the space to choose to let go of expectations that are no longer helpful.
Making your own choices.
You can choose to participate in activities leading up to Christmas that you value. That bring joy to your heart and that of your family. You can choose activities that focus on kindness, gratitude, togetherness. You don’t need to be religious to tap into the good will that exists at this time of the year, where most people are actually actively trying to make other people happy.
Two simple things you can do to create a calmer Christmas are to Let go of finding the perfect gift and remind yourself of what you and your family actually really like about Christmas - and do that.
There is a lot of freedom that comes with being an adult and having so many choices to make. We might feel the heavy weight of expectations, but when we lose that weight it is not just freeing, it also exposes us and makes it vulnerable.
I think that is one reason why treading your own path at Christmas, in line with your values and not others expectations, is so difficult, but for you, it might be the path to your Christmas calm..
ps If you could do with some support and inspiration this time of the year, I invite you to join my Christmas Countdown where you will receive more hacks, tips and reflections on how you can create Christmas Calm from Christmas Overwhelm.
*updated 5th November 2022
* These articles are provided by Kim Ross, Psychologist for general information and education . They are not designed to be used for therapy.. If you are experiencing stress please contact your GP or mental health professional.
Kim Ross is an Online Psychologist and Founder of Positive Young Minds and Private Practice Sustainability.