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Is perfectionism ruining your holiday happiness?

Karen Hawthorne is a health and lifestyle writer and producer in Toronto, Canada. Her work has appeared in print and online for publications including Glow, Homemakers, BestHealthMag.ca and the National Post.

Don't let perfectionism ruin your holidays

Dr. Jeff Szymanski, self-described perfectionist and executive director of the International OCD Foundation, says you can make your perfectionism work for you, even during the holidays when demands and expectations can skyrocket. His new book, The Perfectionist’s Handbook: Take Risks, Invite Criticism, and Make the Most of Your Mistakes, can help, along with our handy Q&A.

Woman stressed with Christmas

SheKnows: If we're complete perfectionists, aren't we setting ourselves up for disappointment in an imperfect world?

Szymanski: There is a difference between setting goals that are motivating and setting goals that are self-defeating. Ask yourself: Are the goals you set for yourself ones you typically achieve? If the answer is no, then you need to learn to set goals differently. Sometimes the problem is that you set goals to please others rather than yourself. If this is the case, then, yes, you will almost always be disappointed. Goal-setting even for perfectionists doesn't have to be disappointing if you are strategic, flexible and willing to learn from your mistakes.

SheKnows: Isn't being a perfectionist really about having control?

Szymanski: Actually, I think the driving force in perfectionism is the [desire] to do well, excel and stand out. The comment I hear most often from people about what drives their perfectionism is the want to be seen as special. The worst insult to a perfectionist is to call them average.

Decide which holiday traditions work for you

SheKnows: During the holiday season, perfectionist tendencies can peak -- shopping for the perfect gifts, prepping for a great holiday dinner, entertaining the in-laws. When things don't turn out as planned, we are miserable.

Szymanski: Perfectionism, on the unhealthy end, can be a blind following of rules. It is important to take a step back and decide for yourself which holiday traditions work for you. Most holiday traditions have at their core a celebration of relationships in your life. If this isn't how it feels, it is time to shift gears and make some changes. For example, gift exchanges between myself and my family turned into a swapping of gift cards over time. Essentially we were blindly following the gift-giving tradition but [we] realized that we were just swapping money. As a result, we gave up gift-giving and instead try to plan a trip together each year, as we are spread across the country.

Keep your eye on what you can control

SheKnows: How can we dial down our expectations of how our friends and family will act at our holiday party?

Szymanski: Hoping others will behave in a way that makes us happy is always a recipe for unhappiness. When possible, be thoughtful about your guest list. Otherwise, it is always best to just keep your eye on what you can control and what you can do to make a gathering as nice as possible. People's good behavior will show up or it won't.

SheKnows: What if the gifts we get don't measure up?

Szymanski: Remind yourself about the function or intention of gift-giving. It is really about celebrating people in our lives and listening closely to what is important to them. A gift is a representation of how well you are paying attention to those [people] you are close to. If this is your guiding principle then it won't occur to you about how "successful" you were in your choices.

Don't try to do everything all by yourself

SheKnows: What are your top perfectionist strategies to make the holiday season more joyful?

Szymanski: Actively choose your traditions: What are your favorite part of the holidays and why? Maximize those. Consider getting rid of traditions that no longer work or don't feel good. Rethink holiday activities that result in isolation and doing things by yourself. Go shopping together. Cook the holiday dinner together. Fight the tendency to do everything yourself.

More holiday stress management tips

4 Ways to cope with holiday stress
Our best tips for stress-free holiday travel
5 Stress less tips for the holidays

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