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Lowering Expectations: A Formula for Stress-Free Holidays

stressed woman sitting on couch in front of Christmas Tree

If you’ve never seen a toddler standing spellbound in front of television commercials during the holiday season, you’ve missed a very important life lesson.

When my child was three, she’d turn around to her sister after each ad and shout, “I’m getting THAT for Christmas!” 

I quickly learned that it didn’t matter what was being advertised. It could have been a commercial for nasal spray or root beer, but the sheer delight portrayed by actors using “the thing” was enough to convince her that this thing was essential.

There was a temporary expectation that she could have anything she wanted. Not only was it deserved, but it was necessary for her personal happiness.

Unlike my then three-year-old, caregivers preparing to celebrate the holidays aren’t consumed with buying everything that dazzles. Even so, we sometimes build and maintain unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others during this time of year–not necessarily about gifts we’d like to receive, but about the holidays themselves. 

Are you attempting to meet your own and others’ expectations for the holidays by doing more than what’s realistic? Aren’t you already overwhelmed with daily caregiving tasks?  Are you honestly the only one who can host the party and make the family-secret recipes when you’re already sleep-deprived and exhausted? 

Experience has taught us that no matter what we do for holiday gatherings, someone will be disappointed about something.

Since we know this is a likely scenario, why not lower our own and everyone else’s expectations?  In doing so, we’ll reduce unnecessary stress and fatigue by giving ourselves permission to do only what’s realistic and most helpful.

Here are three recommendations for caregivers to ensure that celebrations are enjoyable without becoming exhausting:

  • Write down every task you believe must be accomplished in order to have a great celebration. Take a hard look at this list and remember things are different this year. Time and mental/physical energy for caregivers are extremely scarce resources. Cross off the list anything that is not essential.
    • Begin to lower others’ expectations by sharing with key family members your intention of scaling back and determine:
      • How many remaining tasks on the list can be handed over to other family?  Don’t be afraid to ask!  Relocating the gathering elsewhere means you won’t need to clean and decorate.  Allowing others to do the cooking might add up to a whole night’s sleep for you!
      • How many things can be done online and delivered to your door? Ordering gifts and groceries online can save an immense amount of time and energy. Not to mention that it eliminates the need to navigate holiday traffic.
  • Remember to maintain your regular routine of self-care throughout the season.  At the very least, practice habits of good nutrition, hydration, and adequate sleep. There is never a good time of year to ignore your own health!

Focusing on the reason for celebrations will help us put away unreasonable expectations that rob us of peace and joy.  So spread the love, keep it simple, and remain flexible!  Wishing you joyous and stress-free holidays!

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