Navigating Holiday Perfectionism
Navigating Holiday Perfectionism
By Chris Tullo, LAC
Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Just one creature was stirring, a perfectionist mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
But she always found faults, causing stress and despair.
The holiday season often carries an invisible weight: the pressure of perfectionism. While striving for excellence isn’t a bad thing in itself, the pursuit of perfection can impact mental health and lead to a stressful, overwhelming, and anxiety-filled holiday for you and your loved ones.
So gird up your apron, because we are going to break open the cookie of perfectionism and its impact on mental health, and provide practical tips to combat its effects.
What is Holiday Perfectionism
The holiday season can bring a snowstorm of expectations, both societal and personal. Many of us find ourselves overwhelmed trying to create the picture-perfect celebration, whether the expectations we place on ourselves are realistic or not. This pressure can lead to increased stress, anxiety, and a persistent feeling of “never enough.”
Signs and Symptoms
How do you recognize the signs of perfectionism? It often manifests as overwhelming stress from juggling multiple tasks and expectations. There’s the constant fear of falling short, of not meeting the expectations of others, and an all-or-nothing mindset that can lead to procrastination, anxiety, obsessive thoughts, and outbursts of anger towards friends and family.
5 Tips to Combat Perfectionism
1. Set Realistic Expectations
Assess your strengths, weaknesses and limitations realistically. What can you reasonably achieve based on your gifts and resources? Are there enough hours in the day for you to accomplish everything you’ve set out to do? Remember to set expectations that align with the present situation, rather than an idealized version of what you’d like to accomplish.
2. Use Self-Calming and Mindfulness Techniques
When feeling overwhelmed, self-calming techniques can help calm the nervous system by promoting relaxation and reducing stress. One effective (and festive) technique is cookie breathing. Imagine yourself holding a warm, freshly baked cookie in your hands. Then take a deep breath in (smelling the cookie), hold it for a moment (feeling the warmth), and then exhale slowly (pretending to blow on the cookie to cool it down). Repeat this breathing cycle for at least three more rounds or as needed, focusing on the rhythm and the sensation of each breath.
3. Dispute or Challenge Irrational Beliefs
Language patterns can contribute to unhealthy thinking. Try replacing “should” with “like” or “prefer.” The word “should” often implies rigid rules or unrealistic expectations. When you catch yourself using “should,” try rephrasing the statement using more flexible and preference-based language, such as:
“I would like to do X.”
“I prefer it if Y happened.”
“I’d rather Z instead of…”
For example: “I shouldn’t make any mistakes while cooking dinner,” becomes “I would prefer it if I didn’t make mistakes, but it’s okay if I do.”
By noticing and challenging “should” statements in real time, you can shift away from rigid, perfectionist thinking patterns.
4. Reframe Failure As Positive
To perfectionists, failure can feel like the worst thing in the world. In the moments where you feel anxious about making mistakes (or you’ve already made one) remember that failure is not a dead end but a stepping stone towards growth. Try viewing your mistakes as part of the learning process, and valuable opportunities to learn and grow.
5. Practice Self Compassion
Be kind to yourself when mistakes happen, and treat yourself with the same compassion and understanding you would show to a friend in a similar situation. Ask yourself, “If my friend made this mistake, what would I say to them?” Then practice using the same language towards yourself.
5 Strategies to Reduce Stress
1. Simplify Celebrations
Focus on meaningful traditions and activities that are simple and easy to execute. Quality over quantity brings more joy.
2. Know Your Boundaries
The holidays are filled with many responsibilities and commitments, and understanding your needs, values, and limits is important. It’s helpful to determine ahead of time where your boundaries are, and what you are comfortable doing or not doing for other people. To establish and maintain your boundaries, remember to communicate clearly and directly. Try using “I” statements to express your needs without blaming or accusing.
3. Reduce Social Media Use
Social media can cause us to compare our imperfect lives to other people’s highlight reels. You might not get to see your friend ruin their first batch of cookies, or that a big family argument happened after they took their beautiful Christmas card photo. Reducing social media use can reduce comparisons and help us keep our expectations realistic.
4. Prioritize Self Care
The holidays can be a stressful time of year. Remember to maintain your self care routine and take breaks so you can rest and relax amidst the hustle and bustle. Your well-being matters.
5. Seek Support
No person is an island (of misfit toys). Talk to loved ones or a professional if the pressure becomes overwhelming.
The pressure to achieve perfection during the holidays can significantly impact our mental health. Recognizing and addressing these perfectionistic tendencies is crucial for a healthier and happier celebration. Set the right expectations, prioritize your mental health, and remember that a wise man once said, “Perfection is the enemy of good.”
Wishing you a joyful (but not perfect) holiday season!