How Saboteurs Wreck Your “Perfect” Holiday

By Ann Elliott

Red bow on a Christmas Tree surrounded by lights

The holiday season brings added tasks and expectations. Your “to do” list gets longer and longer. The expectations of a “perfect” holiday like the ones pictured in Currier and Ives paintings put significant pressure on people. Look at the glossy pages of magazines to see the brightly lit Christmas tree, adorned with shiny ornaments, and surrounded by beautifully wrapped packages—piles of them. Greenery, candles, and red berries beautifully decorate the mantel. The stockings are hung by the chimney with care. Your judge saboteur loves comparing your décor to the ones you see in the magazines, commercials, and social media. It is difficult to measure up to these standards of perfection.

At their best, holidays are joyful. At their worst, they are stressful. Family and friends do not surround countless people. They are alone. If you are on a tight budget, buying gifts for dozens of people creates anxiety about how to pay for them when the credit card balances come due. Yet, you feel pressured to comply with the holiday traditions.

Labor Day was barely a memory when the big box stores transformed their floor space to all things Christmas. The expectations were obvious. You need to buy this to make your home inside and out in keeping with the season and your neighbors! The hyper-achiever saboteur likes to have you believe this goal is extraordinarily important.

The Price You Pay

Not only is it costly from a money perspective, but the emotional toll on your mental wellbeing also exacts a significant price. 

If your normal behavior is to postpone gift buying until the last minute, your selection is limited, and you end up buying something that is not your first choice. Often the price is more expensive than you intended to spend. Being in a desperate frame of mind, you charge your credit card because it would be unseemly to disappoint someone.

Without the perfect family to invite you for the perfect, traditional meal, you feel depressed. Even like a victim. Seems like everyone else but you experience a festive and ideal gathering. 

And, then there is the family gathering with relatives from near and far. Not everyone agrees on the political decisions of the day. When the discussion gets heated, tempers flare, and relationships suffer.

The Root of the Problem

Everyone brings their expectations and preconceived notions about how the holiday celebration must look. It is easy for the negative energy of others to trigger yours. Even if you think it is well-hidden, it is lurking just waiting for the right opportunity to show up. The expectations of the “perfect” holiday pose a significant threat to your mental wellbeing. 

Where to Start to Outwit Your Saboteurs

  1. Shift your mindset. 

    Accept the reality of the busyness of the season without judging it as a terrible thing or a good thing. With blameless discernment, notice what is true.
  2. Notice your reaction to the situation. 

    What negative emotions are you feeling: anger, resentment, overwhelm? If you experience any negative emotion, that is the clue that one of your saboteurs is running the show.
  3. Prioritize what is most important to you. 

    Be willing to let go of your efforts to make everything perfect. Your idea of perfect and someone else’s idea of perfect do not align 99% of the time.
  4. Forego the need to please everyone. 

    That is a setup for anxiety. 
  5. Identify what you appreciate about your situation. 

    The little stuff counts, too. What you focus on expands.
  6. Protect your time and energy with healthy boundaries. 

    How necessary is to accept every invitation for the holiday season?
  7. Put yourself at the top of the list. 

    When you are in a healthy place mentally and physically, you make better decisions for yourself and in relationships with others. Prioritizing self-care is a loving thing to do. 
  8. Schedule time for what supports and nourishes you. 

    This can be something as simple as a walk outside in nature or time tending your garden. Because it is simple and of little cost, does not diminish the value of your self-care.
  9. Create a plan for reasonable spending. 

    Set appropriate limits on holiday spending for gifts, food, clothing, and entertainment. Stick with your plan. The peace you feel will be well worth the discipline and the effort. 
  10. Ask for help. 

    Give others the opportunity to participate with you in preparing for the holidays. When someone asks, “What can I bring?” “What can I do to help?” Honestly tell them what you need. This lightens your responsibilities and allows them to engage in the success of the event.

A Fond Recollection

When my daughter graduated from college, she moved to Boulder, CO. She called to invite me to spend Thanksgiving in Boulder. During our conversation, she asked me for the recipe for oyster pie, one of her favorite, traditional holiday dishes. Next, she asked me how to cook a turkey. When I learned she and her roommate did not have a roasting pan in their apartment, I asked if she would like me to bring the turkey (see #10). Her response was a resounding “YES.” Up for the adventure, I roasted our Thanksgiving turkey, wrapped it in tin foil, and packed it in a styrofoam cooler which I secured with tape. I had never flown with a turkey, at least not one that was in a Styrofoam cooler and in the baggage area of the plane. We both arrived safely and made our way to my daughter and her roommate’s apartment. They had made a significant effort to set a lovely table. As I recall they rented the table linens. I cannot recall a more perfect holiday and was thrilled to be part of it.

Unrealistic expectations about the perfect holiday create stress when they are unmet. Allow your expectations to give way to something even better than you imagined. Control what is yours to control and release the rest. Reflect on what is in your life for which you are grateful at the present moment. 

When negative feelings confront you during stressful holidays, pause a moment. What might be a gift in this situation? Is it an opportunity to practice compassion for yourself or someone else? Is it a gift to heal a shattered relationship by listening deeply without judgment? What wisdom would your wiser, elder-self tell you about dealing with stress in the holidays?

A word of wisdom. Your saboteurs can be your greatest teachers. Don’t spend your energy resisting them. Learn from them and chose a different path.

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Ann Elliott

Ann Elliott, founder of The Berkana Company, excels at leadership strategy

An expert at helping business leaders enjoy more profits and improved productivity with less stress, she blends fun and excitement with executive coaching and training to yield results for her clients.

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