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.
It’s not called the ‘weight’ of expectations for nothing!
So what are expectations?
Expectations are guidelines, written and unwritten rules about behaviour. They create boundaries and provide guidance. 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.
Is there a purpose to expectations?
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.
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.
And then there's consumer expectations.
And, if that’s not enough you also have the thick layer of consumer ‘expectations’. In a world where economic growth is still valued above all else we seem to have really internalised the ‘greed is good’ doctrine in our society. You are encouraged to buy, to have more, to be good consumers. It is an insidious expectation. It is difficult, but not impossible, to take a mindful approach ad actually see expectations for what they are.
How can we manage all these expectations?
First, step back. What happens when you simple 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?
You can see the ‘shoulds’ and ‘have tos’ for what they really are; they aren’t rules by which you have to live by, they aren’t absolute truths, they are just thoughts your mind is holding on to. By seeing this you can you can choose to let go of expectations that have no meaning or satisfaction for you. And knowing this you can choose.
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.
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..
* My aim is for these posts is meant to useful, interesting and/or inspiring. They are not designed to be used for therapy..
Kim Dunn is a Child Psychologist and Founder of Positive Young Minds.