Perfectionistic Holiday Expectations Cause Depression

December 6, 2010 Natasha Tracy

When we were children, for most of us, Christmas was magical. You got to tear into shiny wrapping paper and discover the most amazing and wondrous gifts inside. There was a Santa Claus who confirmed we had been good all year long. There was a Christmas tree reaching to the sky and cookies and candies abounded. Our four-year-old, six-year-old, eight-year-old minds didn’t see the faults, cracks, bills and squabbles. All we remember is the Barbies, remote-control cars and cookies for Santa.

And so it should be. Those memories, even if mostly embellishments of imagination, are great to hold onto.

The problem is, for some reason, we spend our entire adult lives trying to recreate the magic that never existed in the first place.

Martha Stewart is a Sadist

OK, to be fair, I imagine Martha Stewart herself is lovely, but the image she portrays hurts the North American psyche at large. It perpetuates the myth that we can have a magical, perfect Christmas. It suggests that by growing our own turkeys, spending two days cooking Christmas dinner, and having a gift-wrapping room we can be a perfect, happy family.

no veggiesThis vision is unobtainable and ridiculous.

When we think about it, we know this. But somehow the myth of the perfect Christmas still haunts and drives us to try to perform miracles in order to achieve perfection.

Perfectionists Are Never Happy

One of the things that many depressed people have in common is that they’re often perfectionists. Depressed people feel that if something isn’t perfect it isn’t worth doing. And nothing is perfect; so they’re never happy. Ever. This isn’t necessarily conscious, but somewhere deep inside perfectionists really feel that if they work hard enough and achieve enough they will reach perfection and that then they will be happy. Thanks to Norman Rockwell, Christmas is a perfect time to see this in action.

Adjust Holiday Expectations

There are many things that can improve the holidays for people but one of the biggest is changing your expectations. Look, the turkey is probably going to be dry, your Aunt Lucy is probably going to get drunk and you probably aren’t going to be able to get your hands on whatever the toy-of-the-year is. Bummer. Sounds like life to me.

And that’s OK. Christmas day is at least as flawed as any other day of the year. It’s just a day.

And Christmas is an emotional time for people. Even if you adjust your expectations, those around you might not, so expect fireworks. They happen. People aren’t happy just because of a day on the calendar.

christmas_treeMake the Holidays Something You Can Attain

Make the best of what you have. If you can’t cook a turkey try ham. If you can’t afford to buy your children fancy presents then try to introduce them to the concept of giving by volunteering somewhere together. If your Aunt Lucy always gets drunk try inviting her to a breakfast instead of dinner. Change something. Do whatever makes sense for you.

The holiday belongs to you. However you want to spend it. It doesn’t belong to Martha Stewart, or Norman Rockwell, or a toy-company, or the continental cookie consortium. It is yours. You get to make the decisions. You get to start new traditions. You get to change things and mold them into whatever you want. You are not a slave to other people’s version of a holiday.

But Christmas Has Always Been That Way!

I know change is easier said than done. But for the sake of your brain, your mind and all the chemicals in between, give yourself a break. Don’t stress. Make new, good decisions. If you want to change your holiday for the better then, well, you have to change your holiday.

Because what it comes down to is this – no matter what level of perfection you manage to attain over the holidays it isn’t worth it if you have to spend January in a hospital, catatonic, or mood cycling to recover. Keeping stable through the holidays is the best gift you can give yourself and everyone else.

(PS: I’m aware this is Christian-centric. It’s not meant to be. I’m really talking about any seasonal holiday it’s just awkward to include them all.)

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2010, December 6). Perfectionistic Holiday Expectations Cause Depression, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 19 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Natasha is also unveiling a new book, Bipolar Rules! Hacks to Live Successfully with Bipolar Disorder, mid-2024.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleX, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

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