If you search at Google for holiday stress you’ll get more than four million hits. Most of those are lists about how to manage that stress, and most of those lists are about shopping, and meals, and budgets. And I don’t think that’s what’s really going on.
It’s really about expectations. Nobody’s holiday is ever what we get from our cultural barrage of the illusion of warm family gatherings, candles, songs, hugs, and togetherness; holiday spirits and good cheer. Everybody not only loves everybody, but – much rarer – actually likes them too, and cares what they say and think. The meals are all perfect, and prepared by elves, in kitchens that magically clean themselves.
People look forward to it, attach huge emotional expectations to it, and then of course they’re disappointed when it’s less than the perfect they had imagined. In the best article I’ve seen on holiday stress, The Mayo Clinic says the main triggers are relationships, finances, and physical demands.
Does it help to remember that it’s not just you? That the only families that don’t fall into occasional chaos are fictional families, written by authors, idealized? The only holidays that are all warm and cheery all the time are the ones we see for 30 or 60 seconds in commercials selling things?
While I won’t pretend I actually do know how to solve holiday stress, I am pretty sure it’s not by shopping, cooking, traveling, or budgeting smarter, or finding the right drink mix, songs, decorations, or holiday activities. And I suspect that it’s a lot about expecting less than perfection, staying flexible about details, and finding the good moments in the midst of the chaos.
That brief Mayo Clinic article on Holiday Stress goes on to list 10 tips that include such gems as “be realistic,” “set aside differences,” and “learn to say no.” My personal favorite: “Take a breather.” Spend 15 minutes alone.