By Melissa Fasteau, Psy.D
It’s that time of year again where instagram and facebook have posting after posting with smiling faces, decorated Christmas trees, and beautifully arranged candlesticks in de-waxed chanukiot. All of these photos display family and friends’ enjoyment and glee around the holidays, but something inside mismatches the holiday cheer expressed in those photos. Uh-oh, all of the what-ifs start brewing. What if I get the wrong present for my child? What if my in-laws do not like my family’s traditions? What if I don’t impress my boss at the holiday party? What if I don’t have the perfect holiday season?
The holidays are a notoriously stressful time of year for many people, especially for those with anxiety and for those who strive for perfection. Perfectionists tend to have excessively high personal standards, avoid mistakes and flaws, strive for order and organization, and aim to be the best (Szymanski, 2011). As a result of these unrealistically high expectations, perfectionists set unattainable goals. This can lead to inevitable feelings of anxiety during a variety of holiday stressors – preparing an unforgettable holiday party, pressure for end of the year deadlines, and pleasing relatives, while continuing to uphold time-honored family traditions. Aiming for consistently high expectations can trigger even the most even-tempered person’s anxiety.
During the holidays, people who are generally not perfectionists tend to put unnecessary pressure on themselves to create a picture perfect season. Worries about satisfying others during the holidays and the extra work added on at the end of the year can lead to increased levels of anxiety.
Below are a few suggestions to help manage perfectionism related to the holiday season:
- Take care of yourself. In the middle of coordinating events and taking care of others, it is easy to forget to take care of yourself. Remember to take breaks and rest to prevent burn out during the holidays. Breaks can include activities like spending time with loved ones. For instance, it can be helpful to share a nostalgic movie from childhood with friends or family, or take some solo time for yourself to read a book.
- Time out. Yes, sometimes adults need time outs too. Setting aside some time to focus on mindfulness strategies and letting the world happen can be an opportunity to give yourself a break. Googling a mindfulness video or audiorecording can be helpful to remind yourself to breathe.
- Understand what makes you feel anxious. Identify the thoughts and situations that make you feel anxious. It can be helpful to recognize and understand these anxious thoughts in advance, so you can prepare your coping tools in advance.
- Ask for help. Asking for help can be challenging for perfectionists because everyone has a different vision of a picture perfect holiday. When asking others for help, stress could be alleviated by letting others take care of errands, help with decorating, and coordinating plans. Those who care about you want to make your holiday feel less stressful.
- Say no. Everyone one has a limit, even perfectionists! It is easy to get involved with every holiday party, school festivity, and family event. However, it is impossible to do absolutely everything and do it perfectly, while remaining sane. Before saying yes to a new commitment, think about whether saying yes will contribute to anxiety.
- Set realistic goals. Set attainable goals to allow yourself less time searching for the perfect dish, cooking the perfect recipe, and creating perfect decorations. When setting a good-enough goal, there is more opportunity and brain space available to spend time with your loved ones. Instead of offering to make all of the deserts for a party, it could be helpful to offer to make one batch of cookies.
- Focus on what is important. What is important may be defined differently for each person. Whatever is most important to you, make sure you are spending the most time doing that instead of trying to perfect what does not need perfecting!
With the theme of perfectionism in mind, even this blog post could have been written more perfectly. It’s not perfect. Can you find the spelling error left in this blog on purpose? From everyone at the McLean OCD Institute // Houston, happy holidays!
Szymanski, J. (2011). The Perfectionist’s handbook: Take risks, invite criticism, and make the most of your mistakes. John Wiley & Sons.