Managing expectations is key to finding your joy in the holiday season. Great article from the writers at BreakingBipolar.com.
I believe the holidays hit everyone. Sometimes that hit is very positive, sometimes it’s really negative, but I think that hit is real and pretty universal. If it’s not parents, it’s siblings, if isn’t not kids it’s money, if it’s not partners it’s the planning of perfection. In short, there’s something for everyone to be stressed about at this time of year.
For me, personally, I can’t count the number of times I would leave my family and cry and sob for hours as I drove home. Holidays have never really hit me positively.
And as I’ve said before, even if you’re lucky enough to get a positive kick from the holidays, even good times can lead to bad health. But knowing the hit is coming, is there anything we can do to soften it?
The Expectation of the Perfect Holiday
Holidays are seriously stressful, but we bring on much of this stress. We are stressed by the concept that we all must be Martha Stewart in order to have the “proper” holiday experience. We think that centerpieces are key and napkin rings must match place cards and menus should be printed. We think that mashed potatoes must be put through a ricer and cranberry sauce must be homemade and gifts must appear to have been decorated by designers.
And this, our thoughts, expectations, are what put undue burdens of stress on us.
And seriously. When was the last time you had a perfect Christmas (or other holiday)? Probably the last time was when you were ten-years-old and that’s only because you were given a Barbie Dream House. Your idea of perfection was much more reasonable back then.
I remember one day when I was a kid where my mother flew off the handle about a garland we were putting above the fireplace. I wanted it one way and she wanted it another way and all I remember is that led to a shouting match of my brother shouting down to my mother who passed the shout onto me.
Apparently garlands were the new oxygen.
All of us had the expectation that the garland would be perfect (whatever that is) and we were prepared to fight to the death to ensure it was that way. If we just hadn’t of been so set on perfection, we might not have passed on all the yelling.
So, when looking at the holidays are there reasonable and unreasonable expectations? Of course there are.
- Reasonable expectation: People will be civil to each other most of the time.
- Unreasonable expectation: No one will fight and everyone will be happy to see each other.
- Reasonable expectation: We will all eat a Christmas dinner together.
- Unreasonable expectation: Nothing will be undercooked, overcooked and everything will look like a magazine cover.
- Reasonable expectation: We will decorate a Christmas tree.
- Unreasonable expectation: We will go to a forest and cut down the perfect tree as a family and then decorate it with all the latest fashionable colors.
- Reasonable expectation: People will give gifts.
- Unreasonable expectation: People will love all the gives they gave/got.
And so on.
Bipolar and Holiday Expectations
And if our expectations are out of line with what reality has to offer, we’re really just walking into a wall of sorrow and sadness (and maybe anger, or other things, who knows?).
This can result in two mood shifts.
Shift one is a slip into depression because of all the sorrow felt around the letdown of the holidays. Shift two is a slip into hypomania or mania to try to make all the perfection come to life.
And I’m not kidding about that. These “little” holiday issues can contribute to major problems with mood. And once those mood problems arise, it takes more than a perspective change to deal with them.
In short, it helps if we all go into the holidays understanding the reasonable and substantial imperfection of life and of the holidays. We need to remember we have real families and real dinners and real trees and real gifts and not Norman Rockwell paintings. We all need to relax and just take the holiday as it comes.
And if you can’t get over your need for perfection watch a Martha Stewart Christmas special. Because that’s as close to perfection as any of us is likely to get.