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How can I be realistic in my holiday expectations?

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As the holidays approach, we anticipate being together with family and friends, giving gifts and observing family traditions. The enjoyment of the season can be diminished, however, if our expectations are not reasonable.

For some, the holidays can bring feelings of sadness, particularly in contrast to the way things are “supposed” to be. The holidays can be especially difficult for those who have experienced the death of someone close and are facing the season for the first time without that person. Even after many years, the holidays can become a marker of how many years it has been since a loved one died. Divorce, family disruptions, illness, financial problems or other kinds of loss or change can also make the season difficult.

Whatever your situation, it is important to be realistic in what you expect from the holidays. Consider these tips.

· Focus on traditions that are meaningful or start new ones. Some holiday traditions may not fit as well as they once did if there have been family changes such as death, remarriage or children getting older. Spending the holidays in a different way may bring new enjoyment to the season. This may work better than trying to recreate a Christmas from previous years when the family was in a different stage.

· Avoid a “now or never” frame of mind about the holidays. We may think, “If this party, gift or family activity isn’t just right, the whole season will be ruined and we won’t have the chance to make it right for another year.” Or, “The children will never be this age again. They have to love every minute and have every toy.” We set ourselves up for a letdown when we tell ourselves that the holidays are our chance to get everything just right.

· Be realistic in financial expectations. Financial worries over not being able to do or buy the things we see depicted in advertisements or that we see others doing can lead to feelings of inadequacy and sadness. Be realistic in how much you can spend and what works for you and your family.

· Focus on one or two things you enjoy and plan to do those. Pace yourself. Which holiday activities really bring enjoyment? Are there other activities you impose on yourself or your family that aren’t as enjoyable? Don't let the things that matter most be at the mercy of the things that matter least. What is going to mean the most to your family or loved ones? It may simply be time spent together rather than a frantic rush to plan or do one more thing.

· Be aware of fatigue. Being overtired can result in feelings of depression if the quest for holiday cheer becomes too frenzied.

· Be reasonable. Instead of saying, “Things just have to go well,” try, “It will be nice if ...” And instead of, “I just can’t stand it if ...” remind yourself, “It will still be OK even if ...”

· Plan things to look forward to when the holidays are over. The Christmas season is a great time, but it isn’t the only happy time. Remind yourself that there are many opportunities to show love for your family and friends throughout the year.

Posted on 12 Dec 2003

Tom Lee
Family & Consumer Science Program Leader & Department Head, Financial Management Specialist

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