Customs and traditions are all over the place during the holiday season, as are the memories of holidays past. These three elements can add up to deep satisfaction. Unfortunately, they can also be a formula for misery when they lead to unreasonable expectations. A hazard that causes much of the stress people experience in the holiday season is just that – the hazard of expectations.

All too often, the touchstones and precious memories, the traditions that families and communities strive to observe can feel like standards we must live up to, ideals we must fulfill in complete detail. When we fall short of these expectations, or find we can’t re-create past holidays exactly, it can feel like failure.

A Big Issue and a Big Answer

Let’s pause for a minute and get some perspective. The holiday season is intended to unite us, to remind us of the bonds we hold dear with friends, family, and loved ones; to reconnect us with the customs, beliefs, and traditions that have served for centuries to make us whole, to remind us who we are. Surely that’s the intention, and yet for many of us, we can’t help feeling that maybe something was lost in the modern translation.

A big, fundamental answer for putting everyone more at ease is to realize and share the fact that traditions are not judgments. Today’s holidays, in fact, are the only ones we can create.

Too Much Looking Backward

Another discomfort and source of stress, even pain, that people notice is the tendency that families must travel back in time when they get together for holiday celebrations. Remembering good times is the upside.

The downside is to feel a powerful pull toward our old identities and relationships. The feelings triggered by seeing the same people in a similar setting can bring back roles we outgrew decades ago. We go back to who we were, and lose hold of who we are. Around a holiday table, people sometimes feel their childhood roles within the family return with a vengeance. If someone used to grab the attention, if another tried in vain to be heard, if another stepped in as peacemaker, or another stayed tense and vigilant, those responses and adaptations can arise again.

What Only You Can Share

It’s hard to give with a whole heart when you’re feeling less than whole yourself. The solution is to be you, to hold on to who you have grown to become, and to share that precious gift you worked so hard to grasp. What we’re suggesting isn’t selfishness, but rather awareness. It might seem subtle, but it is the solid foundation for good feelings and relationships – just what we want from our holidays.

Managing relationships during the holidays starts with three key skills: We notice how we feel right now, not getting lost in what we used to feel, or what we think we’re supposed to feel. We give some conscious thought to what we need, in this moment. Is it more information, more time, more recognition? And then we use the skills we built in the years since “the old days,” to make sure our own needs are met, so that we have something genuine to offer the people we love.

Remember, too, that your family physician is standing by you in these days, as well as all the others. In fact, the holidays remind us of all the good things that depend on our health.

If you don’t have a regular family physician, well that’s the essence of our practice. Just call us at 843-815-6468 to get started.