As Christmas and the New Year approach, it’s easy to get caught up in the frenzy -- the sense that you must do more, spend more, be more. All of this pressure and unrealistic expectations can make it hard to fully enjoy the holidays. It keeps us busy and distracted from what matters most.
Would you like a simpler, more peaceful holiday season? If so, try saying “no” to the holiday expectations that don’t reflect your values or that cause you unneeded stress and anxiety.
Set holiday boundaries by saying “no” to these six things:
There are a lot of demands on our time during the holidays –shopping, wrapping, baking/cooking, entertaining, religious services, volunteering, school plays, and concerts. And if we don’t closely monitor our calendars and energy levels, it’s easy to take on too much. Even if you enjoy most of these activities, you probably can’t do them all and still take good care of your physical and emotional health. The tricky thing is figuring out what’s “too much” for you. Try to remember that we all have a finite amount of time, so when you say “yes” to one thing, you’re saying “no” to something else (and often what you’re giving up is sleep, exercise, and other things that restore your energy). This year, I’m planning time for self-care and rest without feeling guilty!
2) Trying to create a perfect holiday.
Perfection is overrated! The holidays aren’t about a perfectly decorated house, the perfect photo for your holiday cards, or having perfectly behaved children. And trying to get everything and everyone to live up to such high expectations takes the fun out of the holidays. It can leave us tired, irritable, and unpleasant to be around. This year, I’m going to try to be flexible and set more realistic expectations. I know that the holidays can still be fun even if my house is a mess or I forget to mail the gifts to my family across the country. Most people are forgiving of our imperfections – and we can still enjoy the holidays even if things don’t go as planned.
Do you ever get caught up in buying “just one more thing” or trying to find the perfect gift? Our consumer culture certainly encourages us to buy and buy without considering our bank accounts. This can be satisfying at the moment, but it’s a real drag when the bills show up in January. Instead, I’m trying not to make gifts and expensive purchases the focus of my holiday celebrations. To avoid overspending, you might create a budget and stick to it, make your purchases with cash rather than credit cards, keep gifts to a minimum, or choose to give homemade gifts or notes of gratitude instead.
4) Things that don’t fill me with joy.
Holidays revolve around traditions, which means we tend to celebrate in the same ways year after year. Are you really enjoying your holiday traditions -- or are you doing things simply because that’s the way you’ve always done them? Traditions are actually negotiable and often need to adjust along with our age and circumstances. Perhaps this year you, too, can give up some of the holiday activities that don’t fill you with joy. For me, it’s going shopping (especially at the mall) and going to big parties. As an introvert, I find these activities especially draining – and they’re just not fun for me. This year, I’m giving myself permission to avoid the mall and large parties and opt for online shopping and more intimate gatherings with friends and family. What would you prefer not to do this year? Can you give yourself permission not to do it (or to do less)?
Self-criticism is never helpful, and it certainly doesn’t reflect the true meaning of the holidays. So, why is it so hard to forgive ourselves when we make mistakes? Why do we expect ourselves to be perfect? Even though we all know logically that everyone makes mistakes, we often hold ourselves to unrealistic standards. Perhaps we think our mistakes are worse than everyone else’s. It’s unfair and unkind to treat ourselves this way. It also doesn’t motivate us or help us learn. When I catch myself in self-criticism, I remember that I deserve compassion as much as anyone else and that self-compassion and forgiveness will help me to be my best self.
6) Worrying about everyone else’s opinions.
When you choose to celebrate (or not celebrate) the holidays on your own terms, some people may be upset or may simply not understand your choices. That doesn’t mean your choices are wrong; we all need to do what’s right for us. The key to letting go of this worry is to figure out whose opinion really matters to you. We should, of course, care about (but not necessarily concede to) the opinions of our closest loved ones. The problem is that we often go through life caring equally about what everyone thinks of us. When I’m clear that certain people’s opinions matter very little, I’m free to be myself. I can stay home from a New Year’s Eve party without guilt and shame. I can serve pizza for Christmas dinner if I feel like it. I can scroll through Facebook and genuinely enjoy other people’s holiday photos without comparison or resentment.
Setting up your own boundaries or limits can help you have a happier holiday season, too! And these changes don’t have to be all-or-nothing. Often, just cutting back or making some modifications can help relieve the stress of doing too much, feeling like it needs to be perfect, and putting other people’s opinions and needs before your own. No matter how you choose to spend the holidays, I hope they are fulfilling for you!
Are you ready to learn how to set boundaries without guilt?
I created a workbook full of practical exercises designed to help you set boundaries and realize that it's healthy -- not wrong -- to take care of your own needs. These are the same exercises that I've used in my psychotherapy practice for nearly twenty years. They're available in PDF format, so you can easily download them and get to work immediately. For more info and to view sample pages, click HERE.
©2018 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved.
Photos by Andrew Neel on Unsplash.com.