Managing Holiday Stress

Holiday PerfectionismBy: Elizabeth Scott, MS

Holiday perfectionism is one of the main causes of holiday stress. We want things to be perfect for our loved ones and for ourselves. They (and we) deserve the best, right? We have the best of intentions. But whether it’s due to the impossible standards of holiday bliss sold to us by various marketing campaigns, to the exaggerated memories of holiday greatness that we’re trying to match (or outdo) from our own childhoods, or simply our regular-life perfectionism carried over and applied to the holidays, holiday perfectionism is all too common.

Signs of Holiday Perfectionism

Perfectionists often think they’re merely high achievers, but there are some key differences. With holiday perfectionism, the differences to look for involve happiness and satisfaction. Holiday high-achieving can mean being busy with holiday activities that will create lasting memories. So can holiday perfectionism. But with holiday high-achieving, if everything doesn’t get done, it’s okay—the focus stays on all of the fun activities that were enjoyed. Not so with holiday perfectionism—for the holiday perfectionist, if everything doesn’t get done (and done perfectly!) it’s a stressful, disappointing experience. Also, holiday high-achievers tend to cut corners here and there in order to get everything done. Holiday perfectionism, however, involves going all-out in every area of holiday activity. Holiday perfectionism involves high demands and little enjoyment.

Examples of Holiday Perfectionism

You might be dealing with holiday perfectionism if:

  • Every gift must be hand-made—and you’re not even enjoying the process!
  • The holiday card is two pages, single-spaced, and includes every detail of your year—along with a hand-written note for each person on your 100-address list. (And each address is hand-written on the envelope!)
  • You spend an entire day on the holiday meal, and can’t enjoy it because you worry that your recipes aren’t elaborate enough.
  • You’re procrastinating on major activities because you want to do an amazing job, but don’t have the time to give an activity the attention you feel it deserves. The activity goes undone, and you beat yourself up over it.
  • The kids look exhausted and stressed early in December because it’s all just too much!
  • You’re doing many, many things to celebrate the holidays, and aren’t enjoying most of them because you feel that your efforts aren’t good enough.

Consequences of Holiday Perfectionism

The main consequence of holiday perfectionism is holiday stress. That stress can be felt by you and everyone around you. Instead of enjoying the holiday season as a time of sharing and celebrating, holiday perfectionism causes people to feel inferior, overwhelmed, and unhappy. And these feelings can be felt by those around them. Basically, holiday perfectionism robs people of the very joy and satisfaction that they’re seeking to achieve in the first place. But it doesn’t need to be that way.

Solutions to Holiday Perfectionism

  • Become Aware of Holiday Perfectionism—Now that you know the signs of holiday perfectionism, examine your thinking and behavior patterns a little more closely and notice whether or not you’re a holiday perfectionist. Just being aware can be a significant help.
  • Re-Examine Your Thoughts—Practice a little cognitive restructuring by paying attention to what you tell yourself as you take on an attitude of perfectionism, and challenge those thoughts. Are you afraid that the holidays won’t be fun for your family if you don’t make everything perfect in one specific way or another? Think instead about how your mood (overwhelmed or happy) might affect their happiness.
  • Practice Imperfection—Purposely challenge yourself to do things somewhat imperfectly. Take shortcuts, do things mostly-well. See how it feels, and practice coping in small increments. This will allow you to feel more in control of your situation without having to make it perfect, and can alleviate some of your holiday perfectionist anxiety.
  • Find Support If You Need It—If you find yourself experiencing stress or anxiety due to holiday perfectionism, you might want to talk to a good friend about it. If you’re experiencing stress and anxiety levels that feel unmanageable, you might want to talk to a professional—there’s a lot that can be done to help.

Bottom line—holiday perfectionism can ruin the joy of the season for you and your loved ones. You can free yourself from the stress that comes from it, and simply enjoy the holidays.

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