I love Christmas.
I love tinsel and baubles.
I love Michael Bublé Christmas tunes.
And I love seeing my sons expression of excitement/terror when he sees Santa for the annual Chrissy photo.
But despite my love for Christmas, this time of the year also brings about some stress! I especially dread the shopping centre car parks, so much so, that each year I convince myself that it’s “smart” to postpone my present shopping to Christmas Eve (note, this strategy is not for the faint hearted).
In fact, for many of us, the festive season can be a mixed bag of emotions.
For some, the festive season reminds us of loved ones we’ve lost. It marks another year that they’re gone, which can dredge up all types of painful emotions.
For others, the festive season exacerbates family issues and difficult dynamics. It can be a time of conflict and heart ache.
But perhaps what causes the most amount of stress is the EXPECTATION that Christmas should be “the most wonderful time of the year” to quote Bublé’s remake of Andy Williams original song.
Such expectation of Christmas leads to judgment of ourselves if we aren’t feeling particularly “joyous” or “jolly”. For example, if you’ve just gone through a relationship break up, naturally you may feel sad and angry. But with the expectation that Christmas should be a time of happiness, those feelings of anger and sadness may be compounded by anxiety and anger.
So ironically, Christmas is when we most expect to be our happiest, but yet, may end up feeling our worst as a result of such expectation.
But if we consider the bombardment of advertising targeting the notion of a “perfect” Christmas, it’s no wonder we expect to be our happiest at Christmas. Retail advertising cleverly targets our soft spots for romance and family love, making Christmas the most profitable time of the year.
So, how to manage festive season expectations?
It’s important to be realistic at Christmas time, to acknowledge that December is just another month, only with a few more parties.
And while December can include moments of joy and love, it can also include other moments of loneliness, stress and sadness. Accepting that Christmas can be a mixed bag of emotions will reduce distress caused by judgement of how you “should” be feeling.
To get the most out of December, it’s important to be fully present for precious moments, such as receiving a gift from someone you love, showing generosity to a charity or decorating the Christmas tree. In these special moments, make sure to put away your phone and appreciate the quality of these moments.
And if you find yourself stressed and overwhelmed (e.g. hustling for a car park, negotiating with the extended family about who’s bringing what dish, and splitting yourself thinly across every single Christmas event), remind yourself of what’s most important to you at this time of the year. Perhaps you value time with family? Or, perhaps time off work or uni seems most important? Strip back all other expectations you hold of yourself and refocus on mastering these bare essentials. Reading blog post – How Aligned to Your Values are You? – may help in your planning.
For other tips on how to improve your experience of the festive season, read blog post – How to Combat Festive Season Stress.
How can Peaceful Mind Psychology help in managing stress?
We are a team of warm and empathic psychologists based in Melbourne, who are experienced and trained in therapy for stress. We understand that multiple issues can arise during the festive season, including relationship difficulties, grief and loss, eating disorder struggles, anxiety and depression. If you would like some professional assistance contact us at Peaceful Mind Psychology.