Holiday Disappointment & Strategies to Feel More Satisfaction

holiday disappointment, depression, sadness

Does the holiday season leave you feeling disappointed?  Maybe you’re overwhelmed and overscheduled with obligations.  Maybe you’re lonely or feeling the painful absence of a loved one. Maybe this holiday just isn’t measuring up to your ideals.

Whatever your personal situation, many people experience a deep sense of disappointment during the holidays.  Expectations run high during this season, and we often perceive our reality as falling painfully short. It is this vast difference between high expectations and perceived reality that creates disappointment & distress.

But we do not have to continue this pattern.  It can be incredibly powerful to adjust our expectations in a way that allows space for a wider range of holiday experiences. While at the same time, we can practice greater acceptance our realities in the moment. These subtle changes will reduce the vast difference between expectations & reality so you can feel more satisfaction.

Part 1: Adjusting Expectations 

High holiday expectations often begin in childhood with magical storybooks, movies, and commercials.  Our culture puts heavy emphasis on an idealized image of harmonious family time, plenty of money for buying gifts, fancy parties, beautiful decorations, and romance. These expectations are impossible for anyone to really meet.  The trick is to set expectations that go beyond the idealized images and filtered Facebook posts. Here are some strategies to adjust your expectations:

  • Reduce judgement of yourself and others, giving yourself room to be human. We often hold ourselves to higher standards than anyone else in our lives.  Take the time to reflect on these high standards and see if you can make them more kind and friendly.  This is a time for practicing compassion for self and others.  Resist the urge to beat yourself up for not meeting every ideal.
  • Focus on the deeper meaning in your holiday experience.  Identify the two or three primary goals you want to accomplish that reflect this deeper meaning for you and your family.  Base your expectations on these primary values that come from within.
  • Give yourself permission to set limits and say no to extra demands.  When you have a clear focus on what is most meaningful about the holidays, you can let go of all the expectations beyond this.
  • Practice self-care by engaging in healthy stress management strategies.  Plan downtime to rest and rejuvenate.  Listen and respond to your body’s messages about the need for sleep, exercise, and healthy eating.  Seek a balance that includes self-nourishment.

Part 2: Accepting reality

So often we are filter our experience to highlight our failings rather than our accomplishments.  We focus on where we fall short and how our holiday experience is inadequate.  Then we miss the opportunity to fully experience our reality.  Accepting your reality starts by shifting your focus to the present moment.   Here are some strategies to try:

  • Take a breath to focus on the present moment. Notice the urge to compare your experience to what you think it should be or what perhaps it used to be, and try intentionally shifting this focus back to the present.  In a moment of stillness, take in the full experience all around you with a curiosity rather than judgment.  Imagine looking at your experience with fresh eyes.
  • Try just doing one thing at a time.  Instead of multitasking, checking off mental to do lists, getting distracted by phones or errands, try focusing your attention on your activity.  For example, try simply driving or taking a shower with your full attention on that one task.  You’ll notice the pull on your attention to other demands, and try to bring it back to the activity at hand.
  • Take a quiet moment to check in with your heart, just noticing your feelings without judgment or resistance.  Try softening into the experience just as it is, even if it’s uncomfortable.  Simply witness your feelings.
  • Practice gratitude to increase acceptance.  Notice the meaningful treasures in your life simply as it is.  Set aside time to regularly appreciate whatever matters most to you.
  • Practice mindfulness by focusing on a single physical sensation for a moment.
    1. Touch: Feel the cool air on your cheeks while running between errands or the texture of the steering wheel in your grip.
    2. Sound: Listen to the sounds of people voices in the stores or even your own breath while laying down to sleep.
    3. Sight: Focus on the colors and shadows all around you or the face of someone you care about.
    4. Smell:  Tune in to the holiday smells of cinnamon pine cones or fresh coffee in your cup.
    5. Tastes: Slowly savor bites of baked treats or hot sips of cocoa without distractions.

Finding satisfaction and joy during small moments this holiday season is possible with focused intention.  However, if disappointment grows into depression with a significant drop in functioning, it may be time to seek more professional care.  Seek support and talk to your doctor or mental health provider.

Written by Suzanne Smith, Ph.D. for the Linden Blog. If you are interested in receiving Linden Blog updates with original articles about parenting, families, mental health, and wellness, subscribe using the field below. If you are interested in scheduling an appointment at Linden BP call 440/250-9880.