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Great Holiday Expectations Often Lead to Holiday Stress

BOONE–Forget about great expectations when preparing for the holiday season, advises psychologist Geri Miller. “What’s wrong with a pretty good holiday season. Why does it have to be awesome,” the Appalachian State University professor asks?

Miller says that too often people set unrealistic expectations when it comes to preparing for and celebrating the holidays, which can lead to a stress-filled rather than a fun-filled holiday celebration.

Glenda T. Hubbard, program director of Appalachian’s counseling center for faculty and staff, agrees. “Change your expectations,” she advises. Hubbard says most of her pre-holiday sessions are with clients who dread going home for the holidays and dealing with the same sibling problems that they did as a child. But they don’t want to break family traditions.

“Norman Rockwell did a real disservice by making us think that all families are picture perfect sitting around a turkey-ladened table at the holidays,” she said.

“Expect people to be consistent with their past actions and prepare for it,” she says. If relatives typically ask questions that are too personal for example, remember you don’t have to answer them. “Change the subject, or ask them why they are asking such a personal questions,” she suggests.

Hubbard says to plan some “escape time,” a strategy that works year round at home and at work. “Take 10 minutes to walk or jog to clear your head before facing something that is troublesome, she said. She adds that developing such coping mechanisms builds confidence that you can handle stress, at work or in your personal life.

Miller adds that it is important to focus on what you value, slowdown and keep a sense of humor. “Let go of things that aren’t as important, such as how clean the house is, and focus on what you value and make that a priority,” she says. And don’t measure your holiday’s success by someone else’s standards, she adds.

Too many people believe they have to add to their normal activities during the holidays, a sure stress generator. “If you think you have to be the perfect host or hostess and have everything just right, you’re putting a pretty heavy burden on yourself,” Hubbard said.

“It’s not feasible, Miller said. “You have to let something go.” Lowering expectations doesn’t devalue them, Miller said. It just makes them more reasonable.