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  • amychesterton

Great Expectations

Updated: Nov 25, 2023

Oh goodie, here we are! The time of year that we all look forward to... the holidays.

Seriously now, if you are like most typical American adults, you wish the holidays were a lot easier, and a lot more joyful. If you are like most of us (particularly moms it turns out), you have also been worrying about the plans, the company, the lack of company, the family dynamics, the cost, the effort, the gifting, the cooking, the decorations, the traveling, the visitors, the groceries, or even the lack thereof of any and/or all of it, since early November.

No matter when you start getting anxious about them, or even how you get through them, holidays are relentlessly complicated. Over the last decade I have 'strived' to have simpler holidays as women (ahem) end up with more responsibility of the planning, the prepping, and the implementing of the seasonal to-dos. Despite my efforts, now is the moment I will confess that the holidays bring out my oldest, most trusted, and very least favorite personal habits. When things get stressful and busy—I lean in hard to all the “shoulds” that I know will make me feel even more stressed, more busy, more ungrounded, and even less joyful. It’s my go-to pattern. When my perfectionist “should” patterns surface (as they do before every holiday ramp up) I get rigid. When I am rigid I am not a good mom. I am not a good spouse. I am not a good friend. I am not the person my dogs think I am, and I am not the person I want to be.

There are a lot of moving parts and confusing feelings around the holidays so I try to give myself grace. When my perfectionist patterns gurgle up—I feel them, try to escort them out the door quickly, and then take comfort in knowing that I am not alone.

For perspective:

8 out of 10 Americans report feeling increased stress around holiday expectations

*47% of us report stress about missing family around the holidays

*46% of us feel stress over affording holiday gifts

*35% of us are stressed about affording holiday meals

*32% of us are stressed about not getting enough sleep

*31% of us are stressed about eating too much

*30% of us are stressed about holiday travel

*26% of us are stressed to spend time with family with different political views

*And 24% of us are stressed because we will be alone

Woah. If you are someone who assumes everyone else is having a better time than you during the holidays, please use this info to consider that, overall, your worry is probably not true.

Ok, so what are we to do with this grim holiday intel? It seems it is the expectations of holidays that get us in a pickle. **This one little word triggers us:

Expectation: Noun.

ex·​pec·​ta·​tion. ik-

1 : the act or state of expecting : a looking forward to or waiting for something

2 : chances of good or bad fortune —usually used in plural

3 : something expected

So, I ask - are we (you and me) willing to recognize what a total set up this word is?

Are we willing to see our own personal patterns of expectation that rev up our stress and anxiety? Are we willing to admit that, despite the trimmings, this is a tricky time and put some checks and balances into place to protect our sanity? (Excuse me, clearly I meant to protect our health and wellness:). Could we perhaps even create some simple guardrails that might help us also feel moments of joy?

Obviously, at any given moment(s) the “holidays” have can present opportunities to connect, to unplug from the grind, to celebrate, to honor, to travel, to cook, to craft, to just have a change in routine, and so forth. Admittedly I have friends who love the holidays and just seem to get it all ‘right’, even down to the very last desert, with a genuine smile on their face and a complaint never uttered.

However, it's vital to recognize that the holidays are a time when expectations are high. Expectations, as we know, can be a trap so there's a strong chance that we may not meet the expectations put on us by social media, by Christmas carols, by our families, by ourselves, and that our own expectations may also fall short.

Heading into this time of year knowing that expectations are just that give us an opportunity to do three things: first, to set them accordingly. Secondly, to think through the usual holiday habits, and politely escort the ones that don’t serve us to the door. Lastly, to try something new that might make us happier.

I don’t want to add to your to do list, but there are many accessible things that are proven to help quell holiday stress*:

- Listening to music

- Reading

- Walking or exercising

- Meditating

- Attending a religious service

- Spending time in nature

- Setting boundaries

- Saying no

- Yup, read that one again: “saying no.” Please apply as needed.

Here are a few that require a bit more buy in from my personal list:

- Protect your sleep by implementing what you need.

I like the basics: a fan for white noise, a cool room, no screens, no pets on the bed, no snoring roomies (which might mean someone sleeps in a guest room, or ear plugs if not possible). I also like lavender oil on the balls of my feet, a quality magnesium supplement, and a good old book. Whatever tricks you have—use them. Don’t go it tired.

- Be an Aretha, not a Martha

Remember the Martha Stewart Christmas Special? The one where Martha makes everything from scratch and ropes a celebrity into cooking a 20+ ingredient masterpiece? Once, her guest was Aretha Franklin. Aretha made a holiday ham that had 5 ingredients: ham, canned pineapple rings, maraschino cherries, toothpicks, and, very specifically, store brand ginger ale. Brilliant.

While I cannot recommend this recipe, I can absolutely recommend the spirit of it. Even in my most perfectionistic go-to moments, I know that Aretha had it all right; keep it simple so you can enjoy what counts. Every year I take whatever little steps I can to simplify. I won't share my hacks, but if you have any you've been wanting to try-- now is the time to go for it.

- Write down 3 things a day that you are grateful for

This is best served as a 21 day exercise as science has shown it takes 21 days to create a new habit. But we are not being perfect, we are just being grateful. So, do it for one day, 5 days, 21 days, or as long as you like. Writing down 3 things you are grateful for opens your heart, and opening your heart helps you feel joy.

Lastly, there is not one size fits all. If you have something that you know helps you ease worry and tension, now is a great time to lean in and embrace it. I invite you to try something different this year by knowing that expectations are a laden word, then recognizing what your habits are, ditching the icky ones, and getting curious about some new ones. However you spend this time of year, I hope you give yourself permission to feel a little bit of what it is supposed to be all about—an unplug from routine, connection, and joy.

*American Psychological Association,



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