With titles like Coming Home for the Holidays or A Gift to Remember, holiday movies are full of perfectly planned holidays where every detail is … perfect.
While experts say these movies can be great for getting people in the holiday spirit, they can also make an average person feel like their holiday isn’t magical at all.
“We all know TV isn’t real life, but there is a surprising number of people out there who compare their family holidays – either consciously or subconsciously – to the perfect families they see in movies and TV. And shocker: the real families can never match the TV ones,” said Andrew Carlton, Behavioral Health administrator at Texas Health Resources.
Carlton said this time of year is ripe with stress. Between jam-packed schedules filled with memory-making opportunities and high expectations for a perfect family holiday, people can lose their grip easily, Carlton said.
Carlton does have some merry news though. You can create uniquely yours memories without too much stress.
- Set (reasonable) expectations. Know going in that your holidays aren’t like the ones on the Hallmark Channel. You likely are sharing your holiday between families, splitting the day as it’s commonly called. Or maybe you don’t have many people to spend it with – certainly not the hordes of perfectly dressed family members like you see on TV. And that’s okay. If you can get in the right mind-set going in, you aren’t as likely to have unmet expectations.
- Plan ahead. Many times people wait until the last minute to buy presents or shop for recipe ingredients and it can cause undue stress as the holidays approach. Look at your calendar and pencil in time to shop. You can make it a social affair by asking friends or loved ones to shop with you or you can do it alone – whatever works best for you, but by planning time for it, you’re less likely to stress about it and try to cram it in at the last minute.
- Set financial expectations. Set a reasonable budget for what you can spend this holiday season and stick to it! Do some self-reflection: If you can say that your family is well taken care of, then maybe the kids don’t have to have the $300 pair of shoes or the new iPhone. If buying high-dollar items is going to put the family in a financial bind, is it really worth it?
- Let it go – at least for the holidays. If you have differences or grievances with any family members who you will likely see during the holidays, try to set those differences aside for the holidays. Your family gathering is probably not the most appropriate time to tackle a grievance.
- Learn to say no. The holidays are ripe with invitations – from theme parties to family get-togethers, it can be overwhelming. Remember to look at your calendar week-by-week and make sure you’re not over committing. And if you start to feel as though you are, it’s okay to say no. You can’t be at every event every time. Be polite, but be real. Chances are, whoever is inviting you will completely understand.
- Check yourself. It’s common to exhibit behaviors before you realize that you’re stressed. And by then it’s impacting your relationships or your job. So if you find that you have less patience with your loved ones than normal or are more irritable, take time to stop and evaluate. Check yourself and ask yourself why you’re irritable or why you have less patience. Is it because your loved one has changed or is it because you have changed? And always know there’s help out there. If you need to reach out to a trained mental health expert, do it.
- Be aware of how much you’re drinking – and why. Have you had a change in your family dynamic this year? Maybe you or someone in your family has gotten divorced or lost a loved one? Often times, a loss or a significant change in your life can be stressful and some people react by drinking more than normal. Ask yourself: Why am I pouring myself a drink right now? Do I feel anxious or stressed or am I relaxed and enjoying myself? So much of good mental health is being self-aware.
- Don’t be offended. Sometimes friends and loved ones can be a little more short during the holidays – or maybe not as thoughtful as they normally are. Be aware of this and know that they might be feeling the same holiday stress that you are feeling –showing grace goes a long way to helping everyone enjoy the holidays.
Carlton recently was featured in a Texas Health Out Loud podcast, where he talked about holiday stress. Check it out here.