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Dangers of the "Perfect Holiday"
By Elizabeth Stawicki
December 20, 2000
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Holiday advertisements dictate that this season is supposed to be the happiest time of the year. If you're not happy now, the ads imply, there must be something terribly wrong because everyone else is enjoying the warmth of friends, family and co-workers.

CONSCIOUSLY AND SUBCONSCIOUSLY we hear and see countless images of the perfect holiday. Those images usually include family members and co-workers beaming with joy around a warm hearth; glad to share in each other's company.
Albert Ellis, who wrote How to Stop Making Yourself Miserable says stress soars to atmospheric levels at the holidays because people expect too much.
"Madison avenue says you should want what we have to sell and if you don't then you're very peculiar. And if you want it but can't get it, get enough money, then there's something rotten about you," SAYS Psychologist Albert Ellis, who acknowledges holiday images are unrealistic.

Therapists say the biggest mistake people make at this time of the year is to believe the images of the perfect holiday projected around them represent reality. Cari Michaels of the University of Minnesota's center against Violence and Abuse says one of the best gifts that people can give themselves is to lower their stress levels by lowering their expectations.

"That we have to spend a whole lot of money on our kids, on our family, on our friends because that's a huge stresser and my experience has been that kids in particular can be just as happy with something that's homemade, an activity that you do that might not cost as much money," according to Michaels.

Albert Ellis, who wrote How to Stop Making Yourself Miserable says stress soars to atmospheric levels at the holidays because people expect too much. He says it's absurd to think, for instance, that the uncle you can't stand at other times of the year will magically turn angelic because it's the holidays.

"If you said, 'I wish I could get along with my uncle Joe this time but I don't have to,' you wouldn't be in trouble. But if you say, 'I've got to or something's wrong with me or something's wrong with him,' then you're in trouble," says Ellis.

For More Information
Mayo Clinic stress test

Minnesota Center Against Violence and Abuse
For some people with anxiety problems, the holidays can be hard to handle, particularly when attending a family gathering or work party is required either out of guilt or duty. Mayo Clinic psychologist Jon Abramowitz says in addition to having realistic thoughts about other people's behavior, it's important to have realistic ideas about our own importance and shortcomings.

"It's often the case that people who are shy think the attention is focused on them and when they're not saying anything, 'Oh my God everyone's noticing I don't have anything to say. How stupid do i look?' The fact is that's not true, and just realizing, 'Ok, I'm going to get through this and it'll be over in a couple of hours and then I can go home and relax,' can sometime help," Abramowitz says.

Abramowitz suggests another way to lessen the stress of holiday get-togethers is to emotionally and mentally plan ahead.

Finally, one note about the song White Christmas, the largest-selling Christmas single of all time. Remember its vivid images of treetops glistening and children listening to hear sleigh bells in the snow? One might get the impression that the writer wrote the song while at a ski lodge in Vermont or at a beloved's country home. If you're worried you might fall short of creating that kind of bucolic holiday, keep in mind what the song is really about: One person's image of the holiday, a person who was living amongst swaying palm trees in Los Angeles.