How to Enjoy a Not-So-Perfect Holiday Season

We all have high holiday expectations. A perfectly browned Thanksgiving turkey; a magical Christmas filled with Hallmark-worthy moments; a Hanukkah celebration rivaling those you remember from childhood…

However, planning for the perfect holiday often creates pain and disappointment when idealistic expectations cannot be met.

Setting unrealistic expectations often happens because we forget that magazines, TV and social media don’t accurately portray reality. Even your own memories of past holidays can be tinged with a magical, larger than life (and inaccurate!) quality.

Holiday expectations not based upon reality can lead to problems.

Expecting things to be the same as they have always been.

Life rarely remains the same–especially these days. Children become adults, siblings get married, we have children, parents pass away, friends get divorced, and spouses develop chronic illness. These experiences change what it is realistic to expect during the holidays. When you insist the holidays must remain the same in the face of changing life circumstances, you create unattainable expectations bound to bring disappointment.

Expecting things to be different from how they really are.

People have an amazing ability to change and adapt. However, we don’t change without deliberately working at it and without observable evidence of change in our daily lives. Expecting Mom to be less critical, Dad to be more emotionally present, or Uncle Fred to stay sober without any evidence they have worked to change is the perfect recipe for holiday disappointment and anger.

A recipe for realistic holiday expectations.

Avoid both catastrophizing and idealizing.

Realistic expectations call on past experience to formulate a plan for what is likely to happen currently. This doesn’t mean attempting to recreate the past. Instead, you look at how things have changed from the past. You then plan to effectively cope with what is likely to happen as a result of what has changed—and what hasn’t changed.

Keep the focus on what YOU can do to create a healthy and enjoyable experience.

You can only change yourself, and remembering this is the key! Adjusting your expectations frees you to create a plan for addressing challenges you are likely to experience. As you prepare for a potentially tense Thanksgiving table or Christmas gift exchange, ask yourself:

  • If challenges are likely occur with , what choices do I have available?
  • What can I do to effectively take care of myself in this situation?
  • How can I enjoy the day even if this is the reality?

Practice graciousness for navigating choppy family holiday waters.

Family relationships are often fraught with difficulty. You can only take responsibility for yourself. You cannot control the thoughts, emotions or behaviors of others. When family members don’t behave way you wish, you can choose to graciously accept they are making choices you don’t support without feeling the need to convince them they are wrong or need to do things differently.

When Aunt Sally spends 20 minutes ranting about “those people who …” rather than argue with her about why she is wrong, try gently responding with, “I can tell you feel very passionately about this.” Then work to direct the conversation to a more neutral topic.

Clarify what others are expecting of you and clearly communicate your plans and expectations.

Work schedules, aging parents, illnesses, in-laws, and young children often make it impossible to meet the expectations of all family members. It is important to take the wishes of those you care about into consideration while also making a plan that allows you to manage the holidays in a healthy fashion.

Attending five different Christmas celebrations in two days to keep your relatives happy will likely result in a miserable holiday experience for you and everyone else who endures this frantic shuffle. Instead, determine what is healthy for you and those you are responsible for, and then clearly communicate this to everyone who has expectations of you in a timely fashion.

As you put your attention on effectively managing your thoughts, feelings and behaviors, you can create a plan that helps you feel prepared to enjoy the reality of the holidays.

We are here for you! Pine Rest provides compassionate, world-class treatment at all care levels and for all ages.

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