Brighter Holidays-Turning Expectations into Acceptance
Chris Corrigan Mendez, M.Ed., LPC, NCC

The holidays are upon us! (Well, the holidays are almost always “upon us” as we celebrate something nearly every month of the year.) But the HOLIDAYS, the WINTER HOLIDAYS, the SUPER-FAMILY-GATHERING, FOOD AND PRESENTS HOLIDAYS are almost here. When they initially announced their approach, we likely experienced the happy, almost “jingly” feelings of excitement, cheer and anticipation. However, as these holidays truly arrive, our positive emotions are sometimes stolen by the “Affect Grinches” of anxiety, sadness and tension.  

Why is this?  How can festivities and revelry leave us stressed out and sad? The answer is captured in two words: Wishes and Expectations. We wish for family gatherings filled with peace and harmony, during which everyone is polite, loving, and 100% supportive of everything everyone says and does now, and has said and done historically. We wish for dinners as delicious and perfect as those we see on TV. We wish for easy travel, with no kids fighting, no traffic snarls, and definitely no breakdowns. We wish. We wish. We wish. And these wishes then become expectations and “musts.” So when we arrive an hour late (after a four-hour drive) at the house of a not-often-seen relative, in a car filled with crying children and smashed pumpkin pies, and find that this relative is still the “challenging” person he or she always has been, our expectations are cruelly unmet. Negative emotions are now taking off with the happy holiday. So does this mean we should not have wishes for the season? Can we hold on to our hopes without making them expectations? Can we avoid experiencing “holiday let downs?” The answer is “Yes,” if we embrace a singular powerful mindset: Acceptance.  

Acceptance, as discussed in counseling literature, is not “approval” of a difficult situation. And it is not putting our heads down, or “rolling over” in submission. Instead, it is finding inner strength and understanding that sometimes life’s events and others’ actions are not exactly what we hope for, and may not change. Acceptance is knowing that we have the right, the power, and the ability go on and enjoy ourselves, even if moments of “uh oh,” arrive.  We can function fully and appreciate what is positive, here and now.

So how can we grab holiday acceptance and hug it tightly? First, let’s identify what our wishes are for the season. Write them down. Type them in the “notes” app on our smart phones. Rank them on “importance.” And then think more about them. Why are these wishes so meaningful? How could the holidays be happy even if some of these wishes didn’t come true? Through this processing exercise, we will understand our hopes more fully and possibly distance them a bit from our core selves, making acceptance more possible if they are not fulfilled.  

Next, we can guide ourselves to a calmer center and place of acceptance through meditation.  “Meditation?” Yes, meditation. This does not require bringing a yoga mat to the family holiday party and assuming the lotus position in a candle-lit room for an hour-long session of ancient chanting. It can be as simple as finding a short (even five-minute) guided meditation at the start of the holiday season, and moving to a quiet spot a couple of times each day (perhaps even a walk outdoors) to shift our focus back to a peaceful place within. Once there, we can let the holidays flow around us and just exist with all the season brings.

And finally, we can allow ourselves a sense of humor and creativity about past holiday wishes vs. realities. We can create games, write silly rhyming poems, sing songs about holiday hopes and what might happen instead. This (like identifying and prioritizing wishes) can give us some distance, a different perspective, and heck, a good time too. So with the WINTER HOLIDAYS upon us, know that we can have long lists of wishes, but that these do not need to become expectations or “musts.” 

If the holidays happen differently than we hope, we can still truly enjoy the season. We just need a mindset of acceptance.

Chris Corrigan Mendez, M.Ed., LPC, NCC / ©2013

Website Builder provided by  Vistaprint