Laurie Harvey Cognitive Therapy logo
The Light Centre, Moorgate, London EC2M 5QA
Holistic Centre, Wiggins Yard, Bridge Street, Godalming, GU7 1HL

Great Expectations: Coping with Pressure at Christmas

It’s that time of year again when we’re expected to be full of joy and good cheer!

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As adults we try hard to recreate the magic of Christmas from memories of past childhood experiences. Sharing happy times with the people we care about most, receiving gifts, eating and playing. As Children we’re free of the pressure to prepare the perfect lunch, buy the perfect gift, or worry about anyone else’s happiness which means we can enjoy the day without expectation. Those strong feelings of happiness remain with us forever and as we get older the innate generosity within us means that we want to re-create those same lovely feelings for our loved ones.

There’s no doubt that Christmas can be a wonderful opportunity to have a break from everyday pressure and to have some free time to catch up with friends and family. For many women, trying to recreate the perfect magical Christmas for the people close to us causes a lot of stress and anxiety. We put in an extraordinary amount of time and energy in the weeks (and sometimes months) ahead and the fear of disappointing others can make us tired, irritable and resentful.  When the holiday eventually arrives we try so hard to make other people happy, it becomes a chore rather than a warm, connected, happy time.

How often does the fear of not living up to other peoples expectations stop you from being happy?

Let go of the need to be perfect at Christmas

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One of my recent clients was a man who had problems eating.  As a young child he was made to clear his plate of food by a “caring but anxious” parent who was worried that he wouldn’t be nourished and healthy.  The amount of food on his plate was too much and because he wanted to please his parents he became anxious at mealtimes which reduced his appetite further.  This soon became a pattern of behaviour (Pavlov’s dogs) when he saw food his appetite reduced and food became his enemy. As an adult, his caring but anxious wife and children wanted him to be nourished and healthy so they took over the job of “nagging”.

During our work together, my client has been able let go of this unconscious belief that food was his enemy which has enabled him to make behavioural changes and his eating patterns are improving which means his family are no longer nagging.

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A young lady came to see me because she was unable to work due to anxiety.  She wanted to make her parents proud and have a successful high powered career but the pressure to please her parents put her under so much pressure that every time she went to an interview she experienced a panic attack. Her parents were naturally worried about her future and their attention was mainly focused on trying to stop the panic attacks.

During our work together my client has been able to let go of the unconscious belief that her parents were ashamed of her for having panic attacks and now realises that they love her unconditionally. We’re now working together using techniques that can help her to stay calm and the panic attacks are already becoming fewer and less severe.

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Another of my recent clients was a lady who was in a long-term cycle of overwork/burnout.  As a child, she learned from a “pushy but well meaning” parent that to win her parents approval she needed to be the best in her class, get the best grades in exams, go to the best university and get the best job. As an adult her need for approval from her husband and children meant that she worked excruciatingly long hours in a top job so that she could provide the best house, best holidays, best cars, best clothes etc. She would then come home in time to put her kids to bed and then carry on working into the night.  Unsurprisingly she eventually experienced burn-out and became sick which she viewed as total failure. Rather than taking enough time for her body to heal, she kept going back to work too early until she burned out again and again.

Having let go of the unconscious belief that her family loved her because of her status, she haas negotiated more realistic working hours and now spends more time enjoying her family and her health is improving.

Dance like nobody’s watching

Go back in time and remember when you were a child, free of other peoples expectations and relive some of your happiest Christmas moments.  Remember seeing Father Christmas, looking at the lights and decorations, smelling the tree, feeling the presents on the end of the bed, playing with the family.

Watching children experience a happy Christmas brings us joy.  The mirror neurons in our brain mean that when we see other people experiencing happiness we can feel it too.

If you burn the turkey and arrive at the table stressed and upset the whole family will feel awkward.  When you let go of the need to be perfect and are able to laugh at your own mistakes you give the people around you permission to laugh with you and you can all be free to enjoy the rest of the day.

I wish you a very Happy Christmas x

 

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