As I reviewed all activities linked with the end of year, I thought that reducing this seasonal stress could be achieved by talking about delegating techniques.
But delegating is an all year round issue, climaxing at the end of the year but not necessarily the most pressing issue for dealing with the holidays right now. Now is not the time to learn effective delegating. So, as I mind mapped what we can struggle with at the end of December, I realised that a lot of it had to do with our expectations and needs.
Expectations on ourselves
Our expectations affect how we think we SHOULD think, act and feel as…
- partner, mother, daughter in law, sister, cousin…
- cook, home decorator, shopper, cleaner, organizer…
- hostess, entertainer, family mediator….
Many women enjoy the winter holiday season. Because it means reuniting with loved ones, sharing traditions together, seeing little ones discover them.
And often it’s worth all the hard work required upfront. Hard work voluntarily taken on, because we also enjoy the preparation & being at the centre of events. But also possibly because we think it is expected of us. And sometimes it is.
I think many women and mothers have mixed feelings December comes.
On one hand, the wish for it to be over because of the sheer workload and stress it can represent. On the other, hoping that the rewarding aspects – kids’ joy opening presents, family enjoying a great meal – will be up to their expectations.
And often, this is what happens.
It’s a bit like going on summer holidays with kids. You spend days packing, organizing, fighting with the suitcase to close, but when you finally arrive to your destination, watch your kids run around on the beach having a quiet drink, you often forget all the efforts and enjoy your reward.
But sometimes, Christmas or summer, not everything is that easy.
When we finally sit at the table with our home made stuffed turkey – thanks Jamie Oliver – with our impeccable tablecloth, glistening Christmas tree and perfect wine, we expect this satisfaction feeling to finally arrive.
Often, however, all we feel there and then is exhaustion, fatigue, boredom or even frustration (yet another meal having to listen to Uncle Matt’s gardening story…or eat this terrible overcooked roast pretending it’s not cardboard).
And we start feeling bad.
This is the holiday season, people are supposed to be happy, to enjoy one another’s company, to have a great fireplace conversation with the mother in law, toddler sitting quietly on our lap, older sister reading a book with Grandpa.
Except you don’t live in a commercial, you live in real life.
And in real life, end of year celebration often come with:
You’re plain tired.
- Of shopping, lists, planning meals, events, gift giving, cleaning and prepping your home for guests.
- Of telling yourself you should get help (partner, family) but giving up because it sounds even more tiring and stressful than doing it yourself.
- Of generally putting everyone first. Even if you enjoy it.
We live in a commercial society and social media (the new advertising) is selling us the idea that our life should be full of joy, of fulfilment, of happiness, of met objectives and ticked boxes, 24/7.
This suggests that feeling bored, frustrated, sad or fed up is wrong. Dysfunctional. Un-evolved. That dreaming of 1 hour alone with a good book, a good friend or a bathtub is selfish. Wishing for the kids, currently fighting over new toys, to be abducted for 1 day, criminal. Wanting to just eat pasta Bolognese, in pyjamas, watching TV, pathetic.
I see people regularly in my office who suffer because they think they have failed to have a wonderful life 24/7.
But we are not robots nor do we live in Facebook. We have emotions and we have needs.
Negative emotions tell us about our unmet needs
When our personal needs are insufficiently met, our energy tank can start running low and alarms go on. They can take the form of:
- Annoyance, irritation or anger – your personal needs (recognition for all our hard work, time alone, quiet, peace in the family..) are not being met.
- Frustration or boredom – you’re missing pleasurable activities…
- Sadness – you may be missing someone or wishing things where different than they are. You need comfort (from yourself of others) or time off
- Concern, stress, worry – you have identified a potential source of problem. It needs to be addressed.
These emotions are signs that you need to readjust your course of action (or non action).
Research shows that when we listen to our emotions, rather than try and suppress them, we make better decision.
So if you are feeling more and more irritated by your mother in law comments about your child rearing decisions, you may not be able to remove her from the room but you may be able to take a break, regroup and figure out the best way to reduce her impact on your mood.
If you find yourself bored playing with the kids and in need of adult conversation, just do it. Find something that makes you happy. Not a huge thing, something small but that brings you pleasure (shower, cup of tea, 15 mins break alone). That’s not being a bad mother, that’s being a smart mother. A frustrated mother is more likely to yell and lose patience.
If you are upset because you can’t be with a loved one right now, acknowledge this unpleasant feeling. It’s there to help you process the situation, get comfort from others if needed and figure out your next step.
Worrying about a burnt turkey is annoying. But if you worry, it’s not because you’re stupid, it’s because for your, serving a good meal is important. That’s who you are. Stressing about it is not stupid, it’s actually a good way of ensuring it doesn’t end up as charcoal. It will make you invest in a timer or stay by the oven.
Stress is there to help us anticipate and prepare for something. Don’t ignore it, embrace it as an assistant for pointing out potential issues.
The more expectations we have, the more likely we are to be disappointed with ourselves but also with others.
That doesn’t mean we can’t hope for a great family dinner or kids to love our presents. So in summary, for negative emotions to help make the most of the end of year :
- Use your emotions as indicators that you need to change something to increase your comfort level.
- Prepare for a realistic winter holiday this will ensure that you spend less time trying not to feel what you feel and more time just enjoying what comes. This is particularly relevant when in the past things have been far from ideal.
I wish you the best possible time. Look after yourself and enjoy whatever comes your way.
Useful End of year ressources
Rima Nouri’s Advent calendar series is full of great practical advice for managing the holidays.