This time of the year is typically a time for joy, family, holidays and traditions. A time when many of us reflect upon our childhood wonder when the world seemed magical. Unfortunately, this time of the year is also one of increased stress because of all the activities we feel we need to accomplish. Our desire to make this time of the year perfect increases our expectations and so causes us to overwork ourselves in our planning efforts.

Norman Rockwell, Christmas, stress, anxiety, cope, holidays, family, peace, lifesjourney, Chris Shea, life, inspirational "Preparing Christmas" Norman Rockwell

Growing up I fondly recall watching the animated Christmas specials and being read many Christmas stories. All of those stories not only have a positive ending, most of them depict a holiday of perfection. In these stories families gather and get along, the house is majestically decorated, the table set to rival the fanciest restaurant. My favorite American painter of all time, Norman Rockwell, painted many scenes of American life, some showing pain and suffering, others showing idyllic scenes. The holiday paintings are my favorite as they depict a world I wish existed. But, a perfect world doesn't exist; a world created by us exists, and we are imperfect beings. Therefore, stress gets the best of us as we strive for a perfection impossible to create. So what can we do?

  1. Refocus our expectations: Take time to reflect on your expectations, considering what is realistic and what is not realistic. For example, we may want a house decorated as we've seen in advertisements, but for some reason, no matter how much we try it never looks as we wanted, leaving us feeling as if we had failed. But we haven't failed, we actually created something unique, recognizing that only if we refocus our expectations.
  2. Change our perception:  Similar to expectations, changing the way we perceive ourselves will change our perception of the world around us. Therefore, changing our view of this time of the year will change our expectations and so reduce our stress. For example, if you are having family over, and the reality is that your uncle always makes a fool of himself at family gatherings, keep your perspective focused on reality, so that when your uncle acts as he always acts, you won't let it stress you.
  3. Simplify your life:  Easier said than done, I know. But if we think about it, our material goods, although useful, can be a source of our stress when our focus emphasizes our “things”. Living simply means keeping a proper focus, or perspective, on what is truly important in our life. We do this by keeping our expectations and perceptions based on who we are, not on who we think we should be based on movies, tv, paintings or stories.

Take the time to enjoy the wonders, joy, and magic of the season. Recall what is truly important to you!

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