The Christmas season is a time of expectation. It’s built on the foundational expectation of the coming of Christ as a baby born of the virgin Mary. This sometimes gets lost in unreasonably high social, emotional, and material expectations and demands around Christmas time.
You may expect Christmas to be a time of excitement and warm, positive emotions (eustress – the good kind of stress). But, along with some “ups” you will likely experience disappointments and “downs.”
Your expectations of the season may lead to unrealistic pressure on your schedule and your personal energy resources. This can be created by you, or you can allow others to create it and can result in exhaustion and a big case of the blues for you when the season is done. Either way, it’s stressful.
Unrealistic social expectations about the amount and quality of time with family and friends can also create distress. The sentimentality of the season is a seed-bed for expectations that relationships, which have been weak for days and years, will somehow be transformed around December 25.
Unrealistic emotional expectations during this all-is-right-with-the-world-most-wonderful-time-of-the-year season set you up for feelings of regret. You may expect some feelings of warmth, peace, and happiness, which are exceptions to what you feel at any other time of year.
Material expectations are closely related to social and emotional expectations. You may purchase things to fit in socially or to meet the expectations of someone else. You may spend money pursuing happiness, passing contentment, or the warm emotional feeling it gives you. This can leave you with the stress of high-interest debt for the coming year.
My secret to a truly high-quality Christmas is to Put Stress to Work for you and your family. I let stress be an indicator concerning overuse of my time and energy, a teacher that motivates me to adjust my ways, and an influence that produces resilience in the face of challenge. Stress can be a companion to your growth in managing life with small steps. Stress can be a signal that things can be better as you learn and create new ways of approaching people and situations.
Here are some pointers:
- Set reasonable expectations for relationships. Relational issues don’t change just because the calendar does. They change because we take the initiative to change them.
- Focus your resources (time, energy, money) on the things most important to you.
- Press the pause button and involve yourself in activities that nourish and renew your energy.
- Create a budget for giving and stick to it.
- Pace yourself. Be reasonable about activity. How many parties and gatherings do you really need to attend?
- Create boundaries. Don’t let someone pressure you into feeling, participating, or spending in any way you don’t want.
- Hold your boundaries assertively.
- Emotions are Emotions. Let your emotions present to you as they may. Name what you are feeling, and get into action occupying your mind with something else.
- Serve others without expectation of return.
- Focus on the real reason for the season. Celebrate and reflect on the love, grace, and mercy shown us in the coming of Christ the Lord, Savior of the World, not only in December but daily throughout the year.
What’s your secret to a great Christmas season?