Can’t Keep Up with the Holidays? 8 Ways to Simplify Your Xmas Expectation Frustration Syndrome

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Have you ever had a specific recurring bad dream? The kind that makes you feel moody, anxious and deeply preoccupied? And after having this dream many times and experiencing the bitter side effects, you develop a feeling of great unease even at the mere thought of its possible reappearance?

These kind of bad dreams can occur not only during our sleep, but, in a way, during our awaken activity. One of the most popular “awake” bad dreams people experience is the dread and/or fear of the Christmas and New Year holidays. Many people live in trepidation every year of the upcoming winter festivities. And most importantly, they are very timid and reluctant in publicly admitting to their fear. So they keep this opinion to themselves and secretly suffer the yearly procedure of Xmas isolation.

Many psychological studies report during this period of the year the rates of depression and attempts at suicide are significantly increased and many psychological care centres experience a high volume of calls from individuals who can’t face the “most wonderful time of the year”.

The Christmas period has become a very popular season over the last couple of decades, and some not very complimenting factors have added to this trend: the blooming of a more and more consuming society, and the over projection of an ideal Xmas scenario so abundantly demonstrated by the film industry worldwide. This virtual image of what Christmas “should be” has minimal correspondence to reality, but nonetheless it causes a lot of stress to massive groups of the population who are the receptors of these suggestive stimuli. The result is what I call “Xmas Expectation Frustration Syndrome”.

Perhaps the worst resulting product of this “perfect” Xmas expectation is that it tends to make us forget the real meaning and history of the Xmas holidays and how it was once celebrated and enjoyed with simplicity, peacefulness and clarity.

I had the privilege to be brought up in a culture that is deeply and well rooted in a strong and rich civilization. My Hellenic heritage has provided me with much, including diverse information (through literature, paintings, ethnological and historical reports, poetry, written and verbal tradition by the elders, traditions that are still alive and practiced) about the old, simple ways Xmas and other festivities were celebrated, without the exaggeration and demanding lifestyle of today.

Although my culture is also bombarded by the same international and consuming projections of a fake Xmas with an abundance and carefree environment of endless joy, it still resists the coups. Seeing this resistance reminds me that what we are conditioned to believe is in many ways in sharp contrast to what our true human nature desires, something that is outside the big expectations of the irrational and inhuman senses of consumerism. Our deeply humanitarian and spiritual self desires something that is meaningful. And if only it was heard publicly, it would be a relieving, soothing and comforting power to all these people who loathe the compulsive necessity to celebrate Xmas in the way dictated by the multinational economical centres – protectors of the modern consuming lifestyle.

Thanks to this “humble” cultural tradition, I have spotted some very important attitudes that, if we start applying them even today, can help us overcome Xmas Expectation Frustration Syndrome. In many ways this is also a tribute to the elder people of my culture, like my maternal grandmother. They have been wonderful role models for me, showing me how to treat this season of the year with joy, simplicity, grace, modesty, true human feeling, and a caring and giving attitude.

I would also like to add some other tips, offered gracefully to us by the insights of the domain of Positive Psychology and Mindfulness techniques that are there to help us lead a more successful life.

By writing this article, my wish is to suggest ideas that, when combined with a healthy cultural attitude and the solid, practical answers science provides, can provide a solution for those who feel the unbearable burden of “compulsory” Xmas festivities and are actively seeking a way out!

So here I present to you eight suggestions to ease the vain burden of the Xmas agony in order to let this season be a source of joy instead of stress!

1.Xmas decorations should last a maximum of 12days not 2 months.

I remember the first time I saw an early Xmas decoration. I was on a professional trip in Singapore in 2005. It was the 19th of November! A beautiful tropical land was decorated with Santas and igloos and snowmen and all the symbols of winter life of the Western societies. I was totally disoriented! I wanted to enjoy the tropical beauty of the island, but the limelight was stolen by the Christmas ornaments and the feeling they produced. It was too soon to be surrounded by Christmas!

After that, I started observing that each year the decorations in Paris, where I was living at the time, and then in Athens, my current locality, were starting much earlier each year. By the time it was 20th of December, you could see that people were already tired of the almost two months of Xmas décor and it had already became a dull part of their everyday routine.

There is a critical curve in the time a decoration in large scale spaces is noticed and is considered something new and appreciated for the difference it brings to the hosting environment. It takes approximately ten days to two weeks maximum for the human eye to get used to it. After that, the new item is incorporated into the general environment and evokes no extra emotions of happiness or awe. Thus, the meaning of Xmas decorations expires after a two week period. So by the time Xmas is truly here, the decoration doesn’t offer the special effect it was intended to bring to people.

Instead, what actually happens with the early decorations is that for two whole months we build up a lifestyle and routine on a continuously growing expectation of excellence that will occur on one simple day, the 25th of December. So when this day arrives, our expectation is so high, that it gets almost impossible to be satisfied, no matter how good the day may be for us. Unavoidably, this becomes an abundant source of frustration and sadness. It is easy then to start linking the procedure of Xmas preparations to emotions of stress and dissatisfaction.

2. The preparation of Christmas is materially simple and spiritually rich. 

When did gift giving become the focus of Christmas? How did such a religious celebration that was all about unconditional love, forgiveness, solidarity and forgiveness start necessitating expensive and elaborate gifts in order to show our emotions to one another? Apparently it started when the big sales companies realised that they could multiply their profits during the days leading up to December 25th. The great moment of this realization started back early in the 20th century in the States. Ever since, with the help of the movies (like the epic Miracle on 34th Street {1947}) which project a frantic agony of buying all the necessary gifts before the big day (as if after that day the end of the world would arrive, or no more shops would exist to buy stuff!), the public started imitating this role model more and more every year. Little by little this new “custom” extended to the rest of the Western world.

Today it feels inconceivable to many not to buy masses of gifts in order to offer them to their family and friends. This almost obsessive-compulsive behaviour causes a great deal of stress, agony and disappointment to lots of people worldwide.

Retrieving memories from my childhood again, my grandma and her peers (all post-war generation), after taking care of the basic house preparations, would only prepare a few gifts to offer to people “eligible” for them, that is those people who happened to share their name day (a special celebration day much like a birthday) with Christmas. And let me clarify here one thing about the Santa Claus tradition in Greece; our saint bearing gifts isn’t Saint Nicholas but Saint Basil, and he’s celebrated on New Year’s Day. There is a historical fact linked to this tradition, maybe we will explain it another time. For that reason, we offer gifts on that day and not before. As for Xmas day, no gifts are exchanged. So grandma would only provide gifts for her grandchildren on NYD.

The gifts weren’t fancy. Most of the time they were objects of practical use or even handmade items. This could be shoes, warm knitted pullovers or modest toys, books and music tapes (before the CD era!), without anything extravagant. No material demonstration was encouraged. But still, the day felt beautiful and marvelous. Not because of the gifts, but because of the overall sensation of hospitality, warmth, and emotions of happiness and kindness toward one another.

Furthermore, the meal we ate on NYD didn’t necessitate the use of expensive ingredients. A nice meal (preferably lamb or chicken, turkey isn’t the meal of choice in Greece!) with a fresh salad, cheese and warm Christmas bread, some good wine and juice for the kids, and a nice desert afterwards. It was essentially the same menu one might have on a Sunday or another nice occasion!

But again, the miracle of the day isn’t in the ingredients. It is on the gathering of people and the time spent together. It is on the wishes people share with each other. That is what makes this meal so special. No need for special or rare ingredients nor complicated recipes. No need for champagne and caviar either! It is all in the human factor! The gathering together of people with love, care and a shared desire to spend precious moments together.

This is what I find important during these days of celebration. We will probably not remember what we ate, but we will definitely remember who we spent the day with, what we talked about, how we laughed or felt nostalgic about a friend who is not among us anymore, how we danced, played board games, how we had a wonderful walk in the forest, how we talked about our favourite memories and our future aspirations. How much material stuff is needed to create these priceless memories?

3. Christmas is an uplifting experience when we give to others (and I don’t mean “gifts”!).

Every year, my grandma would explain to me the spirit of Christianity, not in a preachy way, but mostly as an agreeable story. Sitting at our kitchen table, drinking hot chocolate and eating bites of her divine pies, I would listen with awe to her stories. Love was always the central theme. Love and acceptance of each other. They taught non-judgemental behaviour towards others. Kindness and respect for all human beings, I mean ALL human beings. No need to put that into details.

Much later in my adulthood, when my grandma was no longer able to walk and needed help doing things, I found out that during the Xmas season she secretly contributed to several foundations (orphanages, houses of elder people, the church’s support for the poor). She would also give unused clothes and packets of food supplies to families she knew were in need.

That was a habit my father used to apply too (he still does, actually). He can’t bear the thought that there are families who don’t have the necessary resources for a decent meal during the Xmas period. So, each year he spots at least one family (sometimes more), and offers them food supplies for two weeks.

Giving is a way of showing our spirituality, our connection with others, our solidarity to mankind. And when we give – as many studies already have shown – we feel so much empowerment, inner strength and joy, and are so fulfilled that no other activity can replace this effect.

I personally like to offer small symbolic gifts, such as New Year charms and Wishing Cards that I make myself. These aren’t objects of great material value. But when I create each one of them, I am conscious of its significance: it is an object filled with my wishes for prosperity, love, health, creativity and all the best experiences for the person who will receive it. It’s a simple but personal way to communicate my emotions to people I love and appreciate.

4. Christmas can be a time for rest and carefree activities.

Despite the frantic time leading up to Christmas, stress and exhaustion do not have to be a part of the holiday celebration. Whether it is the cold weather, our biological clocks that time of year, or simply the observance of religious festivities that remind us how peace is an important part of the season, the fact is that this 12 day period is an ideal time to rest, relax, spend some time alone, and have valuable leisure moments. In a world with so much activity and things going on around the clock, the resting periods are rare and should be appreciated. One such time should be Christmas. Though it is a period of many occasions for gatherings and fiestas, still it can provide us with many peaceful moments.

I love reading a good book, drinking hot chocolate, preferably in front of my Christmas tree or the fireplace, and listening to my favourite music. I enjoy watching a nice movie sitting comfortably on the sofa, or writing poems and working on new manuscripts. Other people I know profit from the free time of the days and enjoy undertaking their favourite hobbies, like art crafting, scuba diving, mountain biking, sketching and painting, cooking and pastry making, or simply sleeping and cocooning, you name it.

This time alone can be so refreshing and motivating, and help us feel energized right now, in the heart of the winter. It can give us the motivation to keep working and get going for the rest of this cold season, in order to feel physically and psychologically strong and healthy. This great emotion of fullness is an optimum fuel for our creativity, supplying us with endurance and patience in order to pursue our creative goals with persistence and optimism. Without this fuel, our creative vehicle cannot travel far.

5. Friends are family too – time for gatherings and reconnection – the human social dimensions of life.

It is no news that in Western modern societies the days of Xmas signify “compulsory family time”, even if we don’t want to, even if the relations between us are not very cordial. And this attitude may provoke a huge source of stress and dissatisfaction to masses of people.

I am acquainted with another alternative tradition, where it is a custom to spend Xmas or New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day with people we love, no matter whether they are family or friends. We like to blend family and friends in these three occasions, since they are equally important, and the valuable occasions are best spent with our dearest ones. Family and friends blended together can become a great group of people to share this wonderful time and warm memories.

Sometimes, friends are so close in our lives and have shared so many common experiences with us, that we cannot distinguish them from our family. Sometimes, our relations with our family are difficult and these days of celebration can become a significant moment of challenge that can affect our entire Xmas season and become a point of serious preoccupation and dread even weeks before and after the specific day. So why not feel the liberty to decide to spend our time with people we really appreciate and feel mutual affection for?

I keep fond memories of many Xmas days that I have celebrated with either friends, or friends and family together. Whenever I remember these moments, my heart fills with joy, gratitude and a strong sense of connection. I know that whether far or near these people are a very important part of my life, and so am I for them. This sense of connection and family is an empowering factor in our daily lives. It is a memory we will seek on difficult days or periods of our life when we need courage and strength to deal with hardship.

These occasions can enhance and even deepen our bond with people we have chosen to be our friends or even those we consider family, though they might not be blood relatives.  Of course here appears the subtle issue of compassion. Sometimes it can be challenging to be compassionate toward those we do not want to spend time with. For example, if there is an issue with a particular family member, we can consciously choose to spend a day or part of a day with them, maybe share a meal with them, or for those who need our help, be sure they have what they need during this time, without letting ourselves feel overburdened by the situation.

Compassion follows a golden rule, balancing self-love and self-appreciation with love and appreciation for others. It can be a tricky situation and it necessitates many trial-and-error life moments in order to get the understanding of how to keep this balance without downsizing one or the other part of it. And that is a life-long learning process! You might not always get it right, but the important thing is to keep perspective and do your best to keep compassion at the heart of your actions.

6. Do you know someone who is alone? Invite them to your celebration dinner!

This is a form of spirituality too. In Greece, there is an implicit tradition, part of the things that are not mentioned in any written document, but are transmitted from one generation to the next by example for more than 30 centuries now. The tradition goes like this: when a household cooks for the family members, they always cook at least one extra portion. So if a guest arrives unexpectedly, even a stranger, a person in need or even a beggar, there is plenty of food for them.

In ancient years, the people used to believe that it was an honour and duty at the same time to welcome a guest into your home and offer them a warm meal and hospitality, because they could be gods in disguise, so it would be blasphemy not to do so. In the modern age, the same tradition still holds and people can offer anyone at least one warm dish. No matter how simple or humble the food may be, there is always enough for one more.

Some of my memorable Christmas and NYE celebrations were those shared with last minute guests, people that were alone or were unable to spend the day with their own family. In particular, I remember a Christmas day when my father invited three members of his crew (he is a sea captain) to our home. Had they not been invited to our Xmas table, these three sea-farers would have spent the day in a city where everything was closed, alone and far away from their families. These guests were Muslims, so we made sure to provide a halal meal for them. It was easy to see the deep sense of gratitude and joy on their faces, feeling included in a social situation they were not well familiar with, feeling part of a day that was reminiscent to them of their own families and festivities.

This day was happy, humorous, full of warmth, gratitude and unconditional giving. And, according to my grandma and peers, that is the message of Christianity and of Christmas! Unconditional love and mutual care for others, regardless of their origins!

7. Mindfulness and Introspection

During this period of the year, the earth rests from its fruit bearing procedure. This can be an inspiration trigger for us to do something similar; to seek introspection and think about past and future actions: what serves me best as an attitude, but at the same time connects me harmoniously with the Whole? This is another fundamental meaning of Xmas tradition.

I vividly remember my grandpa, though a very active entrepreneur, having some special moment during the holidays when he would sit all alone, quietly, either writing down notes, or having his eyes closed and concentrating his mind. Once this time alone was over, he would gladly seek the company of others and participate in the festivities.

Nonetheless, this time of the year can be an ideal occasion to have some very private sessions of personal assessment in our life. We can take advantage of these two weeks, put obligations on hold for a while, and take time to review the outcome of our actions and behaviour for the past year, as well as set new goals for the year to come. This procedure of self-control, self-evaluation and goal setting, when occurring in regular periods of time, can be very beneficial for our personal progress and our mental and social development and health.

It is a nice time to use a paper and pencil, write down things that we achieved this past year, valuable life lessons we have learned, and also mention the things that we thought didn’t go as well as we had hoped. On another sheet of paper we can start writing the goals we wish to achieve in the new year. These goals aren’t necessarily on a material plane. In fact, it’s better to start with things that concern our self-development. This is the most important aspect of our lives, the foundation on which all the other goals can bear fruit.

Another very important list we can write concerns all the things we have been appreciative of during this passing year. This strong feeling of gratitude has a great healing power. Let the list be extensive. We can use some of our free time alone to do all this in a sort of private ceremony with ourselves.

I have heard many people suggest group gatherings in order to write their lists. My personal experience as a psychologist and life-coach has shown me that these lists are more effective when kept on a private, individual level. Sometimes, the group effect can disorient us from our true desires and evaluations and make us adopt ideas that aren’t truly ours and we won’t have the motivation to defend nor pursue. Being in a group can also make us artificial and hide truths. We might not be as open to share things on our heart with a group of people. But we can be honest with ourselves.

While we spend this time alone, it can be very useful to practice some mindfulness techniques. Spend time enjoying mindfulness sessions. Allowing our bodies and minds to relax. But most importantly, we can behave in a mindful way during this holidays season. Mindful when we celebrate, mindful when we are surrounded by beloved persons, mindful when we enjoy the Xmas foods, mindful when we spend time alone, or when we think about people in need. Mindfulness can provide a whole new dimension in our lives, creating a mental space of gratitude, serenity, and a deep sense of purpose and fulfilment.

8. Freedom and Variety

An Xmas celebration doesn’t need to be a specific, strict ritual of serving a specific meal at a particular time, listening to specific music, or spending time with a very specific group of people just because “it’s Xmas”! Each person is free to choose the best way to spend his or her day. There is so much over-projection of a very particular way of behaving during Christmas by the mass media, that it seems rigid and overbearing to many people. Of course, the projected image serves specific goals, like enhancing the habits of consumerism.

Keep in mind there is no law forcing us to follow a set program, and in a planetary community, like our current world has become, it is time to allow ourselves to truly feel free and open our wings and experience the way we really want to spend each day of our life. Without restrictions, without forcing ourselves to fit inside a box that is too small for our desires. Christmas is about doing something with love, not hard labor. We are called to realize that we can spend it home with family, or with a close circle of dear friends. We can go on an excursion or on holiday with our partner or with family, or friends! We can decide that we will dedicate the day to watching our favourite movies with people who will appreciate our company, or go out and enjoy an outdoor sport. We can use it as a good opportunity to go and visit a very dear friend living in another city, far away (that’s one of my favourites). It can also be valuable time spent with less privileged groups of people, to provide food, care or simply a listening ear.

No matter what our personal choice may be, it will be meaningful only if it derives from the special part of our inner self, which dictates that we do something because we really, wholesomely and profoundly desire it.

I don’t know what the effect of Christmas has on each one of you. Perhaps you are a mere observer, or maybe it is just another day for you. Or maybe it is a special time to be celebrated and lived mindfully as any other day should be around the year. Don’t allow attitudes such as consumerism and “fast living” to put a different significance on this celebration day. It isn’t worth the cost or toll it will take on your well-being. The loss is all ours. Let us keep claiming the quality of time and life we indisputably deserve as human entities for each single day of our precious lives, including Christmas.

I hope these tips prove useful to you and provide you with a new gist of Xmas, not flashy, not necessarily exaggerated, but substantial and engaging to your soul with an essence of deep relaxation and an overall feeling of wholesomeness. Do you have any more suggestions? I would very happy to hear them! You are welcome to leave your comments below or send me an email at info@uplifepsychology.com. Happy and Peaceful Christmas to Us All!

Last modified: December 19, 2016

5 Responses to " Can’t Keep Up with the Holidays? 8 Ways to Simplify Your Xmas Expectation Frustration Syndrome "

  1. Delimichali Leigha says:

    What a lovely article. It reminds us what Xmas is all about. I love the fact that Xmas is not only about receiving but it is also about giving. Giving us so much more rewarding. Thank you,
    Leigha Delimichali.

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