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A Secret (Yet Common) Cause of Holiday Stress and What To Do [Confessions of a Holiday Perfectionist]

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Does this sound familiar?  You start the holiday season off excited, hoping to create a truly special experience for yourself and your family yet quickly end up feeling like you want to crawl into a deep, dark hole until it’s all over.  If that’s you, then might be suffering from a silent cause of holiday stress known as holiday perfectionism.

But I have good news: you’re not alone (it’s common) and you can overcome it.

Today I’m sharing my (rather embarrassing) story of how I battled and overcame holiday perfectionism. You’ll learn: (1) why holiday perfectionism is a hidden cause of holiday stress, (2) what’s behind holiday perfectionism (it’s not what you think) and (3) how to overcome it.

And to make this holiday season even better for you, I have a powerful resource to help you build a resilient, stress-less mentality. You can download it here:

 

 

What Holiday Perfectionism Is

Not sure what holiday perfectionism is?   Holiday perfectionism is when you try to create the perfect holiday experience.  And it can show up in many different ways.

It’s what compels you to try to:

  • Create the PERFECT holiday experience for your kids,
  • Host the BEST holiday breakfast, dinner, lunch, and/or party,
  • Bake the most BEAUTIFUL (and EXCELLENT tasting) holiday treats,
  • Have the most GORGEOUS Christmas tree ever,
  • Decorate your house in the most DAZZLING fashion.

The problem is that most holiday perfectionists don’t realize that they’re suffering from it.  Although they always get overly stressed around the holidays, they believe it’s just part of the holidays and don’t realize that they’re own actions are the main cause of holiday stress.

This happens because holiday perfectionism often begins on a smaller scale, and then builds up over time.  That makes it feel normal – just something that you do for the holidays.

My experience with holiday perfectionism is a perfect example of that. . .

Case Study On Holiday Perfectionism (and How It Silently Causes Holiday Stress)

I suffered from holiday perfectionism for over 18 years. . . without even realizing it.  This feels like a huge confession (and is incredibly embarrassing to admit).

Here’s how it started for me and progressed over time (without me ever realizing it):

 

Picture of a decorated Christmas tree

 

It All Started With the Christmas Tree

When I was a kid, decorating the Christmas tree was a big deal. My mom, brother, and I would pick out a tree together, come home for hot cocoa and decorate away.  This ritual was something we all looked forward to and enjoyed doing together. And it created many amazing memories.

Upon reaching full-fledged adult-hood (aka after I graduated from law school and had actual money to spend), I wanted to recreate the experience with my then boyfriend (now husband) Jeff.  The problem was that I wanted the tree to be EXACTLY as I remembered it (and as often happens, I’m pretty sure my memory was better than the real thing).

Jeff wanted to help and happily started to put lights on the tree.  Until I told him that he was doing it all wrong and needed to take everything off to start over.  To recreate the effect I wanted, I needed 3 strands of lights placed deeply within the three and 4 strands along the outside (yes, I now find this embarrassing).

By the time we got to the tree decorations, he was done.  I ended up decorating the entire tree by myself (and continued by myself every year thereafter).

 

Red ribbons, Christmas paper and packages

 

Next Up: Perfect Packages + Festive Interiors

The tree looked so amazing that (of course) I wanted the packages underneath it to dazzle.  So, I spent lots of time and money searching for the right paper, bows and ribbons.  In my mind, the paper needed to go well together yet not be too similar – and be heavy (none of that stuff that tears easily!).

Once I found the right paper, I meticulously wrapped all presents that went under the tree (other than the ones that Jeff wrapped for me).  I spent hours on the floor wrapping presents so that they’d look just right.  To the point where my back would ache for days afterwards.

The next year we bought a house.  I wanted to decorate the house to look as good as the tree did (and also to recreate the decorations I remembered from my childhood home and at my grandparents).  Never mind that I was combining decorating ideas from two separate places!

Soon I had everything I needed. A manger scene in the living room. Garland over the mantel and on the banister. Reindeer on the piano. Candles everywhere.

And Jeff’s mother (who made beautiful home-made Santa’s) happily added to the mix by gifting us with a new Santa Claus (or 2) each year. Before I knew it, we had 2-3 per room!

 

Holiday table with presents

 

Cooking and Hosting to Perfection

My childhood memories of the holidays are filled with magical aromas and mouth-watering foods. And of family gatherings during the holidays.

I wanted to recreate the food, add a few new signature dishes of my own, and host as many gatherings as I could.  I wanted our house to be the hub for our large family to gather.

There were several big problems with this:

  • As a corporate finance attorney, it was my busiest time of year (I often worked over 70 hours per week, sometimes more than 90),
  • I insisted on making everything I ever remembered from my childhood, and
  • My extended family is large (sometimes we have gatherings of over 30 people).

But I got it all done by working late into the night the week before Christmas (to bake all the breads and sweet treats), prepping the side dishes on Christmas Eve (an all day affair) and then spending most of Christmas Day in the kitchen.  I lost sleep, often missed Christmas Eve Church services, and had little time to visit with family members on Christmas Day.

And this was BEFORE I had kids. Once they were born, I doubled down. I was intent on creating the same experiences I had enjoyed as a child for my boys.

[Recommended Reading: How to Live Life to the Fullest (5 Truths To Help)].

 

Picture with confident woman life life her way

 

Why Holiday Perfectionism Is a Silent Cause of Holiday Stress

Given everything I was doing, you’d think that I would have realized the cause of my holiday stress.  Especially since my husband kept telling me that I was crazy.  Yet I didn’t listen.

Honestly, it never occurred to me that I was causing so much of my stress around the holidays.  Some of that was because it’s not talked about a lot.  Although holiday stress is often reported on and studied, trying to create the perfect holiday is rarely listed as a main cause of holiday stress.

And because I received lots of compliments on my food, how amazing everything looked, and how fun our gatherings and parties were, it made me believe I was doing the right thing.  I believed that’s what was required of me to create a wonderful holiday for everyone else (and that it needed to be at my own expense).

Besides, this is back when I was still a corporate finance lawyer.  Year-end for finance attorneys is chaotic and stressful.  I believed that my stress was caused by my job (not me).

But I was wrong.  Here’s how I finally figured it out:

When I Realized That I Was My #1 Cause of Holiday Stress

My boys and I were decorating the Christmas tree.  I had promised my boys that they could put most of the ornaments on the tree, and that I would handle only the breakable ones.

But as they haphazardly place ornaments imperfectly on the tree, I started to take over. At first, I rearranged a few.  That quickly turned into ordering.  I told them exactly where to put each ornament (and told often made them move things around).

Their smiles disappeared – and they looked at me as if I’d betrayed their trust.  After about 10 minutes of this, they disengaged and started to leave the room.  Obviously they’d had enough.

That’s when it hit me. . .

In my quest to try to create the so-called perfect experience for my boys, I was ruining all the fun.  So much for creating wonderful holiday memories!

 

Water Color of Pine Trees

 

The Stress Ripple Effect

The sad part was that I’d spent an inordinate amount of time and energy on things that were unnecessary.

No one cared how carefully my packages were wrapped.  They just wanted to see what was inside them!  And no one cared how many lights were on the tree (or how carefully they’d been placed).

And although (I think) people enjoyed my cooking, what they most wanted me.  My time and presence so that we could connect and catch up.  Yet I wasn’t spending much time (and certainly not quality time) with family or friends.

Trying to create perfect moments depleted me.  No wonder I had so much stress!

What’s worse is that I kept doubling down every time I failed, believing that working harder would somehow fix things. Not only did that make me feel worse, it trickled down to those I loved most.

No one wanted to be around me – and I ended up feeling underappreciated, even resentful.  This negatively impacted my relationships and led my family to steer clear of me.

[Recommended Reading: 20 Easy Ways to Reduce Stress Naturally and Quickly (and Keep It Low)]

 

Picture of plants

 

What’s Behind Holiday Perfectionism

Perfectionism often relates to wanting to control things. So, it would be natural to assume that’s what holiday perfectionists want.  Although there is some truth to that, what’s important is why they want to control things.  What’s the purpose behind the controlling behavior?

Here’s what’s behind holiday perfectionism and how I figured it out:

My Interpretation Was Off

For years I’d been trying to create the perfect holiday based on seemingly perfect moments from my childhood. The only problem was that they didn’t exist.  My memories weren’t faulty, my interpretation of those memories was.

None of these moments were actually perfect. They were messy (like life!).

There was the year we spilled cocoa on the carpet. And the one where we went a bit too crazy flocking the Christmas tree (I thought it looked as if Frosty had thrown up all over it).  One year, my mom had surgery and couldn’t cook everything she usually did.

None of that mattered because that’s not what made those memories magical.

My best memories from childhood had nothing to do with perfectly planned moments, how amazing things tasted, or how beautiful things looked. They stuck with me because of how the people around me made me feel. . .

Loved.

Connected.

Listened to.

That I mattered.

 

Pinterest Image with 3 Tips to Enjoy the Holidays and Ditch Holiday Stress

 

What You Need to Know to Overcome Holiday Perfectionism (and Eliminate This Hidden Cause of Holiday Stress)

I now realize that my fondest memories from my childhood have several things in common:

  • They consist of simple, unplanned moments.
  • Everyone was fully present with one another (enabling us to deeply connect).
  • I was encouraged and able to contribute in my own way and just be myself.

This realization has given me deeper insight into what’s behind holiday perfectionism and how to overcome it.  Here’s what you need to know:

You Don’t Need to Create (Or Recreate) Perfect Moments

Holiday perfectionism stems from wanting to create amazing memories (whether based on memories you have from your childhood or wanting to create something you didn’t have as a kid).  But that’s not how it works!

Here’s the thing: life is messy and imperfect. There’s no such thing as the perfect moment or time. And you can’t plan for everything.

Great memories aren’t planned, they’re created out of spontaneity.  Think back to your fondest childhood memories and I’ll bet you find that’s true.

Perfect moments are never planned – and are in fact imperfect. Their imperfection is part of what makes them so wonderful. Like the memory of my boys decorating our Christmas tree 2 years ago (in haphazard fashion) while singing Feliz Navidad.

[Recommended ReadingHow to Redefine Yourself Into Happiness.]

 

What it looks like to have happiness

 

Working Hard to Create Memories Might Even Backfire

Working hard to create something that’s impossible won’t just leave you frustrated.  You’ll eventually end up miserable.  And that will likely affect those you love most.

There’s a ripple effect to the stress you’re creating to yourself (it has a way of rubbing off).  Like me, you’ll probably end up feeling underappreciated (and eventually resentful).  Make no mistake, that will have a negative impact on the very people you’re trying to create good memories for.

And it will leave them with bad memories instead of good ones.

What You Want Is To Create a Feeling Inside of Yourself and Those You Love

Having a wonderful holiday (or any wonderful moment) is created through deep connection.  You want to deeply connect with those you love and just enjoy each person for who they are.  That’s how to create the feeling you want (and the memories you’re striving to have).

How do you do that?  Turns out, it’s not as hard as you think.

 

Christmas Cookies

 

Overcoming Holiday Perfectionism Through Connection

Here’s the thing: your perfectionist tendencies around the holidays are coming from the right place.  You want to experience a happy holiday season.  And more than anything, you want to create that for those you love.

The good news is that you can get what you want by deeply connecting with others.

Be present with those you love and just enjoy that you’re there with them.  Allow people to be fully themselves – and to contribute something to your activities and events. That will create a deeper connection.  And it’s what will give you the feeling you’re looking to achieve.

Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about:

  • Have your kids help you wrap presents.  Instead of fussing over their abilities, ask how you can help (and only do what they ask).  To keep you focused on what’s most important, tell a story about something you did at their age to help out around the holidays and then ask them what they love most about the holiday season. [Note: you can do something similar when it comes to baking cookies or other holiday treats.]
  • If you enjoy cooking, plan for only one signature dish that you’ll make for your holiday celebration.  Minimize the rest of your preparation time by simplifying.  Order a ham or turkey.  Ask attendees to bring side dishes and desserts that they love to make.  And then spend your time out of the kitchen (and instead having fun) at your own holiday gathering.

It’s easier to let go of holiday perfectionism when you focus on what’s most important: being present with loved ones, deeply connecting with one another, and letting everyone contribute in whatever way that’s natural to them.

 

Red Candy Canes

 

Now It’s Your Turn

I no longer fuss over creating the perfect Christmas or holiday season.  I’ve simplified my holiday menu, let my boys decorate the tree, wrap imperfect packages (and let my boys do all the wrapping they want), and cook only the few treats I care about (instead of everything I remember from my childhood).

And guess what?  The tree still looks lovely, the presents are just as much fun to unwrap, and I actually enjoy my holidays.  Plus, I’m making incredible memories with my boys.

And now it’s time for you to do the same thing.  In the comments below, let me know how holiday perfectionism has reared its ugly head in your past and how you’ll be letting go this holiday season. Getting it out in the open will help you change your patterns of behavior so that you can enjoy the holidays this year and beyond.

It’s time to start creating truly magical memories this holiday season!

Until next time. . .

P.S. Don’t forget to download your free resource to help you change how you relate to your thoughts, be more resilient, and create a more present mind.

 


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Hey there!

I’m Heather Moulder, an attorney and executive coach specializing in helping you achieve success that actually feels good.

Personal and professional demands can turn even the best career and life into a daily grind… but it doesn’t have to feel this way.

It’s time to (1) retrain your mind for strength, resilience, and calm, (2) get clarity about your path forward and (3) confidently take action to make your vision a reality.  That’s how to create personal and professional success on your own terms, from the inside-out.

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