The holidays are a time of year that we see increased stress and anxiety/depression in the mental health field. We often think of this time of year as a happy or joyous time, but many people experience it as a difficult time. Much of that difficulty is because we want everything to be perfect or to be like it was in the past. This thought process seems to make sense because that ideal holiday season we remember from our past is what everybody deserves, right? Or, if we never had that ideal experience, it is what we want more than anything for this time of year. We have also been sold the idea that our holidays are supposed to be bigger and better every year by the marketing campaigns on our televisions and in other forms of media. These bigger, better, perfect thoughts put extreme demands on us and result in our forming unrealistic expectations for this time of year that can’t possibly be met. We don’t live in a perfect world and some years are going to be better than others with respect to ability to get together with friends and family and with respect to our ability to purchase goods. Holding on to the hope or plan for a perfect holiday season is likely to result in frustration, anger, and sadness.
How Can I Tell if I am Experiencing Holiday Perfectionism?
Perfectionism and high achievement can often look similar, but there are key differences. With holiday perfectionism the differences to look for include happiness and satisfaction. High achievers are busy with holiday activities that will create lasting memories, but so are perfectionists. The differences lie in the thoughts and behaviors when everything doesn’t go just as you want or if everything doesn’t get done. High achievers are able to enjoy the experience and it is okay that everything wasn’t just as planned. With perfectionists the focus is not on what was accomplished and the fun that was experienced, but on what didn’t happen or what didn’t go as planned. Perfectionists go all out on everything and never cut corners, but high achievers often cut corners on non-essential parts of their plans…they don’t have to do it perfectly. Perfectionism involves high demands and little enjoyment.
Examples of Holiday Perfectionism
• Every gift must be hand-made and you’re not even enjoying the process!
• Every gift must be exactly what the person wanted without exception or substitution.
• 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+ person address list.
• You spend an entire day or more on the holiday meal, and can’t enjoy it because you worry that your menu is not elaborate enough.
• You are 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 believe it deserves. The activity doesn’t get done, and you beat yourself up over it.
• Your kids look exhausted and stressed early in December because it is all just too much!
• You are doing lots of 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 primary consequence of holiday perfectionism is holiday stress for you and everyone around you. Instead of enjoying the season as a time of sharing and celebrating, you feel inferior, overwhelmed, and unhappy. The people around you are walking on eggshells and are afraid to really engage with you because they don’t know how you are going to respond. Holiday perfectionism robs people of the joy and satisfaction they are seeking from the holiday season.
Overcoming Holiday Perfectionism
• Be aware of holiday perfectionism – Now that you know the signs, examine your thinking and behavior more closely and notice whether you are seeking perfection.
• Re-examine your thoughts – When you notice perfectionistic thoughts challenge them and tell yourself that everything will be good and it doesn’t have to be perfect for everyone to have a good time. Everyone is more likely to have a good time if you are having a good time and you can’t enjoy the holidays if you are busy making everything perfect.
• Practice imperfection – Intentionally challenge yourself to do things imperfectly. Take shortcuts, do things well, but not perfectly. See how it feels for small things to be less than perfect. This will allow you to feel more in control of your situation without having to make it perfect, and it can relieve some of your perfectionist anxiety.
• Find support if you need it – Talk to your friends and family if you are feeling stressed or anxious because of wanting the holidays to be perfect. If the stress and anxiety levels seem unmanageable, you might want to talk to a professional – there is a lot that can be done to help.
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 holiday season.
Wishing you and yours a happy Thanksgiving, merry Christmas, and a blessed and prosperous New Year from Restored Life Counseling!