‘Shoulding’ on the holidays part 1: Guilt

Welcome to the holiday season! I absolutely love this time of year. I love the festive feeling, the events, decorating the tree, Christmas music, buying gifts, wrapping gifts, turkey dinner…I could go on. I even like dealing with the Elf on the Shelf. Having a little girl in the house makes everything that much better.

I do understand that not everyone likes this time of year, though. For many, the holiday season spells added stress and anxiety, long checkout lines and crowded parking lots. My mom has given up on most of the holiday traditions because “It’s a lot of work and what’s the point?” Many people experience a sharp let down when their high expectations of the holiday didn’t turn out exactly right. Others merely tolerate the season with a “meh”, or more appropriately a “humbug”, attitude. If this is supposed to be such a joyous season, why do so many people find it so miserable? How can you enjoy the season and hopefully inspire joy in others at the same time?

First off, stop “should-ing” all over the holidays. This phrase sounds similar to another that I could use because the two mean roughly the same thing. By saying things like, “I should prepare a meal with all the trimmings taking into account all of my guest’s food preferences and allergies,” “I should uphold every tradition regardless if anyone enjoys them or not,” or “I should have beautiful wrapping on every gift,” you create your own stress.

I did this exact thing for Thanksgiving. I over-planned a huge festivus and ended up exhausted and burnt out when everyone would have been happy with something much simpler.

When you focus on everything you should be doing, it takes you out of the present moment and sucks the joy out of everything. My advice is, instead of focusing on everyone else’s enjoyment of the season, focus on your own. Once you find happiness, you can be a source of happiness for others. You won’t have to work so hard to create a joyous holiday because the joy will already be there. The best part is that the joy will be authentic, not put on or cheesy.

“Should-ing” puts conditions on your happiness and obliterates the very things the season is really about: joy, family, and togetherness. Let’s explore how to stop should-ing and open yourself up to more joy this holiday season. This week we are focusing on…

Guilt

Do you suffer from guilt around the holidays? Many people do. The season is full of opportunities to feel guilty. Overeating, drinking too much at the office Christmas party (and the resulting behavior), spending too much on gifts, forgetting to buy a gift for someone, not measuring up to your relatives’ expectations, simply dealing with the relatives, choosing to attend the wrong party, choosing not to attend a party, choosing to stay in and avoid the whole thing…and the list goes on.

Rather than succumbing to guilt as something inevitable or building up a heavy sheet of armor against it, try to soften. Understand that your “shoulds” are creating your guilt and let it go. Ease up on yourself and go with the flow. When you let go of your “shoulds” guilt doesn’t have near as much pull.

I should be everywhere at once

Maybe your guilt stems from FOMO, Fear of Missing Out. FOMO causes deep anxiety in many people because no one wants to miss out on a fun or rewarding experience. What if you are invited to more than one event on a particular night? Say that a fun group of friends is having a cocktail party, but your kid’s Christmas concert is at the same time. Of course, you have to attend the concert, but you can’t enjoy it because you have FOMO on the cocktail party. You can’t be totally present at the concert because you are thinking about the cocktail party. Maybe you’re checking your watch the whole time wondering if you might be able to skip out early, or checking your phone for updates on the fun you’re missing.

This behavior benefits no one. You are certainly not enjoying the concert and your kid can see you checking your phone, or picked up on your ambivalence earlier, so she knows you would rather be somewhere else. Now your kid feels bad and you feel bad that you made your kid feel bad, and on and on in snowball fashion.

What if you went to the party instead of the concert? Now you are where you want to be, but can’t enjoy it because you are feeling guilty about letting your kid down. Better to enjoy where you are and what you are doing in the present moment, whatever that is.

Think of the happiest, most well-adjusted people you know. In my experience, these are the people who are happiest wherever they are at any moment. They have no regrets about skipping out on the party to attend their kid’s concert because they have a solid set of priorities and always adhere to them. They actually want to be at the concert. It isn’t just something they should do. When they hear about the party from others later on they listen and are glad the others had a great time, but have no remorse.

I should live up to the standards set by social media

FOMO can also lead to an obsession with social media. You check Facebook several times a day just to be sure you’re not missing anything and feel anxious when you haven’t connected in a while. I mean, something might have happened! We’re even willing to miss out on what is happening right in front of us in order to check in with what we might be missing out on. Social media can also lead to feelings of guilt in other ways because it invites you to compare your life to other people’s lives.

The problem is, you see a raw, unedited version of your life, but you are seeing a highly edited version of your friends’ lives. No one posts their kitchen fails or decorating disasters on Facebook. Everyone posts their perfect pictures and fun outings.

I should buy the most or at least the best

Money is a major source of stress this time of year. Credit card companies and retail stores love it. Holiday shopping has become an indicator of how our economy is functioning. Right now we are in the midst of catalog season when every trip to the mailbox rewards us with a stack of picture books each more fantastic than the next. We feel obligated to buy, buy, buy for everyone on our ever-expanding lists. It becomes a competition. This is the toy this season! Get it now before it sells out. Doorbuster deals! Midnight sales! Capitalism at its finest.

Some people enjoy this sort of thing, racking up credit card debt with glee. Enduring (maybe even enjoying) crowds and long lines to score that one must have trinket. What happens next isn’t so fun. When they come down from the retail euphoria, shopper’s remorse strikes and they are left to justify their purchases with thin excuses about the holiday gifting. Then comes the credit card bill in January, the bleakest of the months weather-wise and finance-wise.

Let me help to alleviate your suffering a bit in this area by giving some hard, boring, not so fun advice. Have a budget and stick with it. None of the holidays celebrated between now and the end of the year are about stuff. It is not about finding that perfect gift. That one fantastic toy is not going to pull everything together and make the holiday joyous.

If you want to escape financial guilt this time of year, I suggest you learn the same lesson the Grinch learned, “Maybe Christmas…doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” You hear this so often that it has become background noise, but it’s true. Joy comes from within. You make it. It can’t be bought, so stop trying. Instead, invest in some hot chocolate, popcorn, and Christmas movies. Snuggle up and have some quality family time.

I should be a better person

Maybe your family is great at laying on the guilt. Unfortunately, your mother (grandmother, aunt) will not likely stop comparing you to the smart, put together, successful daughter of her friend. Or, your mother is terribly disappointed that you have decided to stay home this year or visit the in-laws instead of visiting her. Though they mean well, family members are likely one of the largest contributors to feelings of inadequacy and guilt. “You should come home every Thanksgiving like so-and-so.”

On the same note, you will receive Christmas cards from people who look so happy and well adjusted that it will be hard not to envy them. Striving for someone else’s life not only decreases your authenticity, but it may also lead to future frustration and decreased self-worth. You have no idea what goes on behind the scenes. It’s the same as comparing yourself to people on social media. If you continue to compare your unedited life to the highly edited life of others, you will continue to suffer.

Shrug off unfair comparisons that others make about you and don’t do it to yourself. If your mother starts to lay on the guilt trip about not seeing you for the holiday or for some other reason, let it run off your shoulders like rain off a roof. If you are extra sensitive to the guilt trip, it may help to prepare by reciting abundance and validating affirmations. Repeat “I am enough” or “I am worthy” several times a day until you believe it. Then, shake off negative feelings. If you feel guilt or other bad feelings start to well up during an event or family get-together, go for a walk or find a quiet place to sit and breathe for a few minutes. The bathroom works great for this. Repeat your affirmations a few times, then head back in with a refreshed sense of self.

Remember everyone is dealing with something. Perhaps the person who is comparing you to others feels inadequate herself. Remember how wonderful you really are and don’t worry about her opinions.

I should stop over-eating

Guilt about over-eating is an issue for many people. As an advocate for health and wellness, I hear a lot about people’s disappointment in holiday weight gain. The thing is, one big meal a month or little indulgences here and there isn’t the problem. I fully endorse enjoying celebrations with food.

The problem manifests when people eat the whole season through because they feel empty. They feel that they should be happy and are upset that they aren’t. So they try to fill that empty space with food, which is available in mass quantity this time of year. Cookies, cakes, pies, party food, appetizers, cocktails and candy canes get devoured because people are hungry for connection. This is a very emotionally charged time of year, and it isn’t any wonder that we search for love and acceptance only to find gingerbread. Adding to the problem in the northern hemisphere is seasonal depression brought about by shorter days and colder temperatures. So what can we do when there is so much stacked against us?

Figure out what you are really hungry for. Connection with family and friends, meaningful activity, a fulfilling hobby or work, giving to charity, volunteering time, or engaging in something creative often will fill the void.

Connection with others is a biggie. We try to connect digitally, but it is just not the same. We need companionship with other people. This is why there are so many parties this time of year. Forge a deeper connection with those you are closest to and don’t worry if you indulge at the buffet a little too much here and there. Just be aware of it and try to stay near the veggies and away from the candy. Try to eat something filling before you go and take it easy on the cocktails. Go easy on yourself. Investing in a health coach, trusted friend, or counselor is a good idea if you need extra support.

In each of these examples, letting go of “shoulds” will help you let go of the guilt. If you believe that you are worthy enough to operate from your own agenda, you free yourself to enjoy more of the present moment.

What should I really do?

Now, I’m not trying to add to your list of shoulds this holiday season, increasing your guilt by saying you should want to attend your kid’s concert. Maybe it’s the last thing you want to do. Even if you’ll only do it because you want to support your kid, then there’s your motivation. Choose carefully, but whatever you decide to do, make the decision and go for it all the way with no regrets.

Happiness comes from within. Simply deciding to be happy is the first step. Then do everything you can to make it true. If you start to feel guilty about something practice forgiveness and gratitude. Repeat your affirmations. Remember that everyone else is dealing with something similar, no matter how well-adjusted they seem.

Walk into every room with the question, “How can I help here?” By understanding that everyone is suffering in some way, especially around the holidays, we can let a few petty injustices go. If you happen to forget an appointment because you have so many things going on right now, forgive yourself. If you just want a quiet evening in, give yourself permission to miss out on that night’s festivities guilt free. If your budget is a priority, don’t feel bad about not getting the biggest, greatest gifts for everyone this year. You don’t need an excuse for having a small, quiet holiday. In fact, you may not be the only one who appreciates it. Give yourself a break. Focus on quality, not quantity.

Once you free yourself from the chains of guilt, you will be that much closer to enjoying your holiday. Now, what happens when the holiday doesn’t live up to your expectations? What if things don’t work out? What if you encounter disaster? Shoulding on the Holidays, Part 2: Expectations is coming up next week. See you then!

If you find this useful, there’s a good chance your friends will, too. Share this with your friends right away while you are thinking of it. Thanks for reading!

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