“Expectation is the mother of all frustration”
Santa’s Story *
The Build Up
Santa was stressed. He’d had a really busy year with the demands of work, constant emails from clients, an unruly workforce to manage and then the travel! (Twenty-four hours worth of deliveries, without a break, he wasn’t sure that was legal!) He was frustrated that his employees couldn’t keep up with their work and that his wife and kids didn’t seem as keen as him to get the house ready for the 25th.
Sitting down to his Christmas dinner he suddenly felt the strangest sensations: palpitations, dizziness, difficulty focussing and shortness of breath. Santa felt like he was having an out-of-body experience. “I’m going to faint!” he thought to himself, “and then what will everyone think of me?” This thought made Santa’s breathing increase further and rather than try to sit out the panic attack he ran upstairs and hid under his duvet. Santa felt anxious and low and hiding from the family seemed like his only option.
At his wits’ end, Santa visited a psychotherapist and together they explored the things that might have triggered his panic attack. There was a sense of relief at being able to speak about work demands and the constant pressure to perform, “I am responsible for everyone’s happiness!” he cried. For weeks he hadn’t been able to go on his daily walks and the lack of sunshine where he lived seemed to be adding to Santa’s low mood. What’s more he was comfort eating and starting on the sherry a little earlier every evening.
Together with the therapist, he concluded that he was giving everything to everyone else, had nothing left for himself and his anxiety ‘bucket’ had overflowed causing a really nasty panic attack. Those high expectations of himself, his workers and his family were maintaining his anxiety and he really wasn’t looking after himself. Reluctantly he agreed to experiment with a bit of behavioural change to see if this would help.
Santa couldn’t possibly be expected to be on call 24/7, so he decided there would be no answering emails after 5:30pm and he wouldn’t be taking his phone with him on walks. Similarly, he would have to stop expecting everyone around him to be perfect and he found that once he stopped expecting things from other people, he stopped feeling disappointed with them. The more Santa practised these new behaviours, the easier he found it and gradually his anxiety level dropped.
Next session, he drew a responsibility chart (more on this in the next blog) and concluded that he couldn’t POSSIBLY be responsible for everyone else’s happiness and this was a weight lifted (a cognitive shift apparently!)
Reduced Expectations = Reduced Anxiety?
Christmas time is supposed to be a time of happiness (yet another expectation) but many people experience stress and anxiety. Could reducing our expectations of ourselves and others help?
- Don’t expect yourself to get everything ready in time for the big day.
- Don’t expect tired and exited kids to ‘behave’.
- Do take some time for yourself to relax or exercise.
- Do get everyone to muck in on Christmas day (that’s what little helpers are for!)
- Don’t expect an ‘Insta-perfect’ Christmas because it doesn’t exist!
- Don’t put pressure on yourself to buy too many gifts…it’s expensive.
- Don’t put pressure on yourself to be a social butterfly if this leaves you exhausted.
- Do get some sleep instead.
- Do like Santa and think about how to reduce your anxiety bucket.
*name changed for confidentiality!