We all see how the holidays are portrayed on television and in magazines. It is supposed to be a time when everything is cheery and bright. We see images of parents decorating the tree with their kids as they sip cocoa and listen to Christmas music. We see families sitting perfectly still in their Sunday best in church. We see immaculate houses that resemble a snow globe. We drool over big feasts and want to make all the special dishes.
It all looks idyllic. It makes us feel peaceful to see these dreamy scenes, and we want them for ourselves and our family to enjoy. The problem is, these images, commercials and Hallmark movies all portray something that isn’t realistic. Deep down, we know this, but some try to make things perfect over the holidays anyway.
And in some cases, the more we try to make things nice for everyone around us, the harder it gets — you simply can’t please everyone and have some time to relax and enjoy the holidays for yourself.
Perfectionism can have harmful effects on your mental health. And many times, that perfectionism intensifies during the holidays. Our expectations are high, and there is more to do. We become busier with shopping, decorating, parties and baking. Before we know it, we’ve planned and done so much, we have nothing left to give anyone. We are crabby and can feel resentful and like no one appreciates our efforts.
Karen Koenig, a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist, says perfectionism is a side effect of anxiety. “It’s a compulsion to relieve that anxiety,” she says.
She goes on to explain perfectionists have a fear of failing or feeling inadequate, so “they go over and above” to make sure everything is taken care of and are rarely aware of their actions. “They set exceptionally high standards for themselves and see things in an all-or-nothing manner,” she says.
Naturally, when there is a big event like the holidays coming up, when there is more to do and people to please, they are going to look at it as a time to fail or shine. Koenig says, to a perfectionist, the true magic of the holidays will be wrapped up in “doing everything right and receiving approval for it.”
Putting that kind of pressure on yourself and those around you, no matter what time of year, is never going to end well. It’s hard for the person trying to make everything perfect because it is virtually impossible, but it’s also hard for friends and family to witness, as “they hate to see someone they love stressing themselves out striving for it,” Koenig says.
Really, nobody wins here. While it’s easy for a non-perfectionist to tell someone to just relax and enjoy this magical time of year, it doesn’t always work. Perfectionism is a sign of a bigger problem that needs to be addressed.
Koenig suggests if you struggle with perfectionism to “start to examine your beliefs about success, achievement and failure.” Then try to find out how these beliefs and feelings manifested inside you.
She also suggests doing things to reduce your anxiety, such as self-soothing techniques and “developing nurturing, rational self-talk,” she says.
Because the more we realize nothing horrible is going to happen if we don’t wrap the gifts perfectly, we burn the turkey or we forget to buy a Secret Santa gift, hopefully, the more we can forgive ourselves.
If you are feeling the effects of a perfectionist family member or friend during the holidays, Koenig says the best thing you can do is confront them in a loving and compassionate way and try to realize how much they are actually struggling inside. People should also “set guidelines about what they will or won’t do over the holidays,” she says.
This time of year can be wonderful, but it’s also hard for many people. We all feel the pressure to some extent, and it’s best for us all if we try to meet everyone (especially ourselves) with some love and understanding.