Mental Health

Letting Go of Holiday Expectations

Managing Anxiety During the Holidays | Libero Magazine 4
It’s worth making an effort to find opportunities for connection. You may have to be creative, because everyone is busy, but we all need some stress breaks.

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It sometimes seems like every day of the Holiday season brings a new overwhelming social expectation. When I was a kid, it was fun: party after party, and all I cared about was the candy canes.

Then I became an adult, and I felt like someone had given me a trick advent calendar. Every morning I open the door and see the thing I’m going to have to do today. Sunday: special choir practice, Monday: potluck at work, Tuesday: get the tree up or it’ll be too late.

None of it makes me as happy as it used to.

In fact, sometimes each event makes me a bit less happy.  It’s so easy to get off-kilter and feel more anxious when my routine is messed up and expectations are high. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of those things are still fun, but there is just so much of it.

And, in the midst of it all can come a special kind of loneliness.  It’s a season that is supposed to be about love and togetherness, but everyone is flying off in a bunch of different directions. Or, maybe there are gaps in our social networks. No-one to celebrate with, or at least, no-one we want to celebrate with. This is a problem because, for mental health, it’s essential to maintain contact with safe people.

There is a kind of reset or re-levelling that happens when I take my disrupted self and spend time in contact with the people I can trust to understand, and care, and help me to see the funny side. Somehow, this rarely happens during the holiday season.

We need people to be their helpfully ordinary selves, their non-festive wonderfully calming selves.

But, instead, they are busy trying to make the holidays special. And we are busy making it special for them. It’s lonely, and our high expectations for how the holidays “should” be just make it all feel worse.

So, what can we do about all this?

Managing Anxiety During the Holidays | Libero Magazine

Well, first of all, realize that it’s not an illusion — the holiday season is lonely. Even though you see people more, you often spend less quality time with the people you need most.

It’s worth making an effort to find opportunities for connection.

You may have to be creative, because everyone is busy, but we all need some stress breaks, so maybe watching an old movie, or grabbing a coffee at the mall, or just bundling up and going for a walk will give you the opportunity for real social contact.

If there are not enough positive people in your life, that problem probably can’t be solved before New Year’s Eve, but maybe you can start mentally preparing yourself in case 2016 brings new opportunities for connection.

And, secondly, try not to buy into the hype. Stay off Pinterest, avoid all advertising, and don’t compare your Christmas to the ones other people claim to be enjoying perfectly.

It’s just a day. And there are fun things about it. But there is no value in making it a hundred times better than a normal day. Maybe you can shoot for making it twice as good. Or maybe, it’s just great to get through it without losing track of your recovery.

Keep it simple. Sometimes peace is the real joy.

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Colleen Fuller is a Registered Clinical Counsellor with a Master’s in Counselling Psychology from City University of Seattle. She is also a happy wife and the proud mom of two terrific young adults. She has a private practice in Vancouver, Canada, called Creative Solutions Counselling. If you would like to know more about her or consult with her (in person or via Skype), you can visit

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