Sunday, 2 December 2012

Great Expectations

Blogging for Well-being - Advent Blog - 2nd December

Christmas is a special time of the year for us all. It's especially a time for family gatherings and while it may be wonderful to get together and mark the passing of another year there can be many stresses about it too.

Christmas is also a time for remembering and while for many their memories of past Christmas' are filled with joy for others these memories may not be as happy. If this is the case for you it may influence how you approach planning for Christmas

We human beings are always "expecting." In other words, we are always having expectations. Lots of expectations. Some we are consciously aware of. Many others, we are not.

Expectations are always there, however, in the background of our daily experiences. Whether we are attuned to them or whether we are oblivious to them--which too often is the case--our expectations come into play in a multitude of subtle ways.

Why focus on expectations? The main reason is that expectations are a common source of stress in our lives. They frequently create all sorts of mischief, including emotional distress, relationship conflicts, communication breakdowns, misunderstandings, distrust, and a wide range of other common problems.

Expectations produce stress in two main ways. One is that they are frequently untrue or unrealistic. The other is that most of the time, we are completely unaware of them. Individual expectations are not very complicated. They often consist of simple ideas such as "life should be fair," "people should be honest," etc. It's the fact they are hidden from our view that gives them so much power over us.

Many of my emotionally dysregulated periods have been because I have expected something that may have been unrealistic, and when people or situations don’t live up to my expectations coupled with a less than mindful approach, I become very disappointed and upset, causing my emotions to fluctuate and spiral out of control.

When we consciously or unconsciously harbor expectations that are much too high, we set ourselves up for failure. As a result, we end up feeling frustrated, angry, and personally demoralized.

Once you become aware of an untrue or unrealistic expectation; YOU gain the power to free yourself from it.

It's really just that simple. But "simple" doesn't always mean "easy"--unless, that is, you have the expectation that it does! It's one thing to become aware of your unconscious expectations. It's quite another to know which ones are realistic and which ones aren't. This takes wisdom, yet most people have far more wisdom than they usually give themselves credit for.

Social and personal expectations are a major source of holiday stress. The holiday season is not a happy time for everyone. Yet we all tend to feel compelled to look and feel merry during this time.

The mass media and happy Hollywood movies fuel these expectations. If you are single, alone, or recently divorced or separated, the social pressures at this time of year can be quite stressful. Similarly, we all have expectations of how our friends and family members should behave during the holidays. When these expectations are not met, stress and interpersonal conflicts can easily arise.

All families experience tension to some degree. But there is a DBT skill that may help you; I know last year it really aided me. COPE AHEAD. Part of the reason why Christmas time can be so stressful is the unrealistic expectation of coming together as a happy family on this one day of the year. Suggestions for coping ahead with Christmas include:
  1. Keep realistic expectations. If your relatives tend to fight throughout the year, they will most likely fight on Christmas Day as well. 
  2. Appreciate that everyone is under stress to a certain degree. For example, one relative may have worked overtime to get everything done before their office closed for Christmas, and may be feeling exhausted and harried. Another may be anxious because they overspent on their credit cards. Be as understanding as you can of people's situations. 
  3. Consider breaking up the celebrations to keep 'warring factions' apart. For example, you could see one group of relations on Christmas Eve and another on Christmas Day. 
  4. Family members involved in after-lunch activities (such as a walk by the sea) are less likely to get into arguments. Plan for something to do as a group after lunch if necessary. 
  5. Use relaxation techniques, distraction and group activities to help steer around stressful situations. 
  6. Avoid overindulging in alcohol – the reduced inhibitions could contribute to (or cause) an unnecessary argument. 

Be MINDFUL of your emotions and feelings today and over the next few weeks, and don’t let your expectations rule your enjoyment of what can be a very happy time of year. It's all part of creating a LIFE WORTH LIVING.

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