Holiday Hell! That's when you're pushed, pressured, obligated, and bound by the expectations of others that you have taken on yourself. Those others may be your family, your partner, your church, workplace or culture. You somehow feel you have to do things, to live up to those expectations. Great news! Holiday Hell is self-imposed torture. When you love to do things, they're effortless, easy, and enjoyable. When you have to do things, you're angry, resentful and stressed.
There are two kinds of stress: distress and eustress. Distress makes you feel awful. Eustress makes you feel excited and anticipatory. Here's a fine holiday example:
Distress: "How am I going to get it all done in time, with all those people to please?"
Eustress: "I can hardly wait to open my gift because I just know he's going to propose!"
The body is going through very similar things in both cases: shortness of breath, inability to sleep, nerves a tingle, and the inability to think straight. Yet you experience them differently. One is a downer; the other, an upper.
Holiday Hell is distress. It's the have-tos, the ought-tos, and the 'my mother will kill me if I don't' dos. It's where we allow other people's expectations to dictate our thoughts, plans and behaviors. Now, what grown-ups in their right minds do that?! Still, most folks are doing exactly that. Curious, right?
My mother seemed to seize the holidays as the absolutely necessary time to "get it right." We didn't have a lot of money, but each year she put out everything she had, including lots of things she had collected over the years. Every surface was covered with snowmen, Santas, angels, reindeer, trains, little houses that lit up, and nativity scenes. Yes, and as big a tree as our small house would hold loaded with long-saved ornaments, lights and fresh tinsel. You might think she loved Christmas because she overdid it in so many ways. Strangely, though, it was always a time of mega-stress for her. She had to make the mince pies and cookies in dozens. She had to have certain people in for dinner, and others in for an evening visit. We had to be invited to certain homes. And, she had to complain about it continuously. She had to evaluate what other people expected and do her best to exceed it! I really think that she thought that doing all those things she said she hated made her virtuous in some way! She was "getting it right."
My father's part in this was to have the liquor cabinet suitably filled to offer guests whatever they might enjoy. He had a very relaxed approach to Christmas. He and I spent many, many evenings fixing old toys up and refurbishing things so that others might have a better experience during the holidays. His joy came in delivering those treats, and the traditional oranges and nuts to everyone he thought needed them. His Christmas was all about giving. Unfortunately, he simply could not receive, something I always wished he could let go of because it caused him distress.
My mother experienced much more distress than eustress. My father experienced mostly eustress — except when he was pressured by my mother's distress, that is! What do you experience mostly?
If what you're looking at is the upcoming incarnation of "Holiday Hell," here's a few clarifications to turn it towards "Holiday Heaven":
- Right now, have a good sit down and think about how you want to celebrate the holidays. What expresses your values, vision and beliefs? Write those thoughts down and hold them close.
- What have you inherited, adopted or adapted from your family or culture that you really enjoy and want to continue with?
- What really doesn't work for you? Be very honest.
- What expectations of others do you want to meet, because it warms your heart and theirs? Keep them.
- Is it all right for you, as a grown-up, to have your own ideas, beliefs, desires and traditions? Give yourself permission.
- Are you willing to give up the distress, and the inevitable resentment?
- Are you willing to release all things that make you complain about the holidays and replace them with people and activities you love and value?
- Are you courageous enough to be that grown up?
- Are you courageous enough to do your inner work to discover where you’re sweating the small stuff and losing sight of the big stuff?
- Are you willing to accept that you have the right to be assertive about what’s important to you, without treading on those same rights of others?
Important Note: I'm not suggesting that you become self-centered, demanding, and outrageous. No, the exact opposite. This will help you be clear, open, loving, and assertive.
From your ten answers above, I hope that you have seen the possibility of relieving yourself of undue stress while celebrating the people and traditions you love. And, that you now know why you do it, because you want to! You happily embrace the reasons you celebrate the holiday season in the ways that you do, and that it matches who you are now. Yes, we all love the feeling of wonder we had as young girls and boys. Let's keep that by recognizing that the world won't stop turning if we make agreements not to buy gifts. We don't decorate. We eat out.
Real friendships won't be tarnished if we tell our friends that we're celebrating their company on life's journey by setting aside two hours to spend together, rather than finding the perfect gift. Nothing bad will happen if we buy the mince meat tarts we love rather than staying up half the night to make them. Only good will come from treating ourselves well by living our values, and not living up to the expectations of others when they simply do not fit for us. (Yes, it might take a while and a pout, snit, or two.)
Once we recognize that we actually buy into "Holiday Hell" and proceed to create it, we can realize that we have the opportunity to create our own "Holiday Heaven." You'll likely be surprised when you talk with your partner or family — or just sit down and have a good talk with yourself, that much of what creates that pressurized hell is of your own making.
Give up Holiday Hell, and embrace a relaxed, joyful, happy celebration. I wish you Holiday Heaven!
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