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Coping with unrealistic expectations this holiday season

Updated: Feb 4, 2022

We are in the midst of the holiday season and wherever there is anticipation you can find expectations. I believe that one of the best ways to ensure that we set ourselves up for holiday disappointment is by holding on to unrealistic expectations!

Whenever there is something big on the horizon, a wedding, a graduation, a holiday gathering, those events are anticipated with much expectations about the way things should unfold and the way people should behave. We often formulate an idealized script in our mind about what this dream will look like. And when snaffoos occur ( as they always do) and people don’t play their role as they are supposed to (which they won’t ) we can experience… well major let down. And that “let down” can lead to frustration, grief and relational discord.I’ll say it again.. Unrealized expectations are one of the biggest contributors to holiday stress and unhappiness.

I don’t want to suggest that we have no expectations at all. It is, after all the expectations that can build excitement. I do believe, however that we need to examine our expectations. We can best uncover our expectations when we find our thoughts starting with words like "should (n’t) "or “supposed to“ And we can take a step back from the pain of dashed expectations when we stay within our own sphere of influence and keep our focus on what is truly within our own control .

But what happens when the expectations are the self-imposed variety?. What about when we ourselves aren’t living up to our own lofty expectations. I’ve been there, especially during the holidays. I’ve made plans that are bigger than my own time constraints or budget. I've held the belief that I can bake dozens of cookies, make homemade gifts and wrap beautiful one of a kind presents, and send hand written individual Christmas cards all within the same time period it takes to run normal everyday activities. I’ve been known to be frustrated with my inability to meet my own expectations., not to mention too exhausted to enjoy any of it.

There is also the new reality of FOMO ( fear of missing out) we compare our lives to what others are perceived to be doing. This comparison can lead us to be disappointed in our own perceived lack or our families lack. If you’ve ever uttered the phrase “ why can’t you (we) be like …” you know what I mean.

So how do we to examine and adjust our expectations? Here are a few hints.

  1. Stop any and all thoughts and comments that start with “ should” “ supposed to” and nip any statements or thought that are comparative in nature.

  2. Plan for snaffoos. When we include in our expectations that something will go wrong, we are not derailed when it happens and pleasantly surprised when it doesn’t

  3. Focus on the blessings, the beautiful wonderful imperfect people in our lives

  4. Focus on what you can control and sometimes that’s just your attitude about something

  5. Give grace to others. Give grace to yourself.

  6. Remember that it’s often the things that go wrong that we are able to laugh about later. It’s often the burnt turkey, the travel issues, grandmas ranting that make the best stories later on.

  7. Practice the art of observing curiously and compassionately rather than judging harshly. This goes for your difficult relatives and your own lack of perfection. When we view problems with a curious and compassionate mindset we may even find our crazy relatives antics… well dare I say somewhat endearing? Even if we don’t quite get to that point, softening a judgmental stance makes our own experience more enjoyable.

  8. Maintain the mindset that each moment is a gift, a treasure and live fully in the blessing of each moment even if it’s not the moment you’ve envisioned.

I also have a free download for staying resilient during stressful times. For these tips and more you can find this resource by signing up for my newletter.

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