Most People are “Expecting” this Holiday Season!
“Expectations were like fine pottery. The harder you held them,
the more likely they were to crack.”
While some of you are expecting babies… that isn’t what I’m talking about today. The rest of us are expecting all kinds of things in the current season:
- Those who celebrate(d) Hanukkah “expect” to bring light into darkness, and to remember the miraculous ways that G-d has provided.
- Those who celebrate religious Christmas “expect” the Messiah to come.
- Those who celebrate secular Christmas “expect” to feel joy, to share gifts, and to have time off work and school.
- Those who celebrate Kwanzaa “expect” to be able to impart important values of community cooperation, identity, and inter-connectedness.
- Those who celebrate Yule “expect” a time of contemplation on the shortest night of the year, and then “expect” the days to start getting longer again.
- Most of us have come to “expect” truly annoying (mostly secular, silly and outdated) Christmas music to assault our ears at every turn.
- My Jehovah’s Witness family “expects” a break from all of us who will be off celebrating things!
We expect a great many things. Many faiths have different rituals that wrap around the idea of peace: Peace within, peace without, peace in our families, peace in our communities, peace in our hearts. Non-religious people tend to also expect more kindness and gentleness from others at this time of year. And. Yet.
The Winter Holidays are some of the most stressful times of the year for a whole lot of people.
It’s Not Just the Humans
Even the pets are expecting things! For example, Zenifred “expected” me to decorate the house… and not her. Then she expected to be allowed to eat whatever I tried to put on her.
I started decorating the dogs this year, because the room that would have gotten most of the decorations in it still has no comfortable place to sit. We have been “expecting” the couch that we ordered in October to be here by now. Here’s the space where the couch is “supposed” to be:
I have a whole new appreciation for just how hard, hardwood floors can be!
My assistant, Dr. Dante, on the other hand, “expected” me to decorate him. In fact, we first learned that he weirdly loves wearing clothes at this time of year ten years ago. I picked him up from the groomer and it was too cold outside for him to leave the store newly bald. The only thing they had available was a velveteen Santa suit, and he went nuts for it! He has been a fashionisto ever since.
He did not, however, “expect” me to decorate his head. He hates that! As evidenced by…
If looks could kill.
Why Are We So Stressed??
So why are we all so stressed? I want to suggest that a lot of it has to do with our expectations. We expect to be joyful. We expect to be able to make magical moments for others. We expect to be able to step away from our normal responsibilities and take a break. We expect people around us to be more kind, forgetting that they are just as stressed as we are, or maybe even more. We expect to be happy, and yet real life, very unhappy things do not seem to take a calendar break and comply with our expectations.
Some of us also feel stressed out by the expectations of others: Family members expecting us to put up with their atrocious behavior, some feel pressured to overspend on gifts in order to meet other’s gift expectations. When we accept those expectations, (and no, you really don’t have to,) we become tightly wound and quickly unstrung.
We do all of this expecting, but there is no baby on the other end of it, aside from stress-related health problems and damaged relationships.
Sounds Crazy, Doesn’t It?
It kind of is. So how about we trade it all in for something better?
I talked about “the Power of Now” previously in one of my Mental Health Minutes. Now would be a terrific time to become excellent at living in it!
Now is the Cure
Stop. Right now. Just, stop. (I’ll wait…) > place not-annoying, calming music here<
Oh hi! Welcome back.
Take a breath. Notice that breath. How did it feel moving in and out of your body? Take another one; Deeper this time. Did your body settle back down a little more this time?
I want to suggest to you that those breaths are everything. Instead of tumbling forward as if a ginormous ball of electric expectations is chasing us downhill, let’s work at stopping, letting the ball roll past us.
Answer your demanding “what if” questions, one at a time, with deep breaths in between. Be in this now. Let go of the fear that if you disappoint someone else, the world will come crashing in. Is that how you treat other people when they disappoint you? (If it is, you might want to work on that with a therapist.)
Right Here, Right Now
In this moment right here? Right now? What’s good? Think through your life, your relationships, and even the simple things like how comfortable your shirt might be, or how nice that smell that just danced by is.
That other stuff that’s trying to run over your gray matter? Most of it is fiction — your best guesses at a future that has not yet happened. None of it is happening in this moment unless you allow it in.
Enjoy the peace. Take everything else, one thing at a time, dropping every “have to,” “should” and “must.” (For more on that, click here and read the paragraph under “The demands that shorten our slack.”)
It is well out of my paygrade to create peace on earth, but freeing ourselves from expectations can deliver us into enough peace to bring us surprising joy. May your personal peace become utterly contagious.
If you are finding yourself trying to outrun that relentless electric ball of expectations, contact Tiffany today. Let’s make a plan for something better. I wish you peace.