I call it the expectation gap – the distance between how we think things should be and how they really are. It could be a definition of stress, when you really stop to think about it. With another holiday season approaching rapidly, each happy display, twinkling light, and heart-warming tune reinforces the high expectations that seem so full of promise each year. I will admit that even the change to holiday cups at Starbucks can warm me up with hopes for the season to come.
Judging from the comments of others, most of us set ourselves up with arguably unrealistic expectations for the perfect holiday season, even though few of us have ever really experienced one without the usual bumps that life continues to send our way. While the warm feelings can translate into little acts of kindness, the bills will still come in the mail, people will still get sick, and difficult relationships will probably still be difficult.
Does that sound like a set-up for an expectation gap? It does to me. I am not a Scrooge, but I am a realist. I also find that I enjoy the holidays most when I plan for a few memorable times with family and friends, keep spending under control, and remember that I can make pumpkin pie in July if I really want a piece.
Here are a few tips for a low stress holiday season:
1. Simplify. Review your list of holiday traditions, and kick out the ones that are less meaningful or just too time-consuming. (Do you really need to create a gingerbread mansion from scratch each year?)
2. Pick names for gift-giving if you have a large family. This has greatly streamlined my shopping and allowed more time to make the house more festive.
3. When the normal chaos of life gets in the way of your bliss, or when others do not share your positive “glow”, try not to focus on how “unfair” it is, and remember that the holidays are just days on the calendar, not a quick pass to utopia. Try to roll with it.
4. Remember what is important. Relationships are important. A burned sweet potato-marshmallow casserole is not. (Even if I liked it, I still would think it is unimportant!)
5. Think in gray terms, instead of black and white, when it comes to eating. You really can have your favorite foods if you watch portions and enjoy them without negative judgments. The holidays are not always the best time to expect weight loss, so try not to create another expectation gap. If you are able to maintain your weight, you are in an ideal position to seize new motivation when it takes hold of you, whether that happens on January 1 or February 25!