Addressing my holiday anxiety

But Christmas? For we seekers after the perfect daily routine, Christmas and other holidays are the worst. The season of rest and good cheer merely exacerbates the drama involved in trying to find some kind of rhythm. In our house, by this point in December, we’re a good week into the period when no day is a “normal day”, thanks to school plays, school fairs, school holidays, carol services, parties, shopping trips, travel plans or family visits… and there are a couple more weeks of it to go yet. 

How’s an uptight misanthropist-perfectionist supposed to keep a daily routine going in the midst of all that? You can’t, obviously. And so the risk is that a period with the potential to be absorbingly delightful (because really, I love school plays and carol services) becomes something to “get through” instead – an obstacle one must get past before “real life” can resume, simply because it can’t be made to conform to how you think your days ought to go. 

The more general (and marginally less Grinchy) point here is that there’s often a deep tension between the desire many of us feel to exert control over our time – because we believe, if perhaps only subconsciously, that something will go very wrong if we don’t do so – and the possibility of actually being fully absorbed in that time. Trying too hard to dictate how things unfold stops them unfolding properly. So it’s not really that the Christmas holiday gets in the way of real life. That would be absurd: Christmas is part of my real life, and a part I cherish. It’s my desire to control things that causes the real trouble.

Oliver Burkeman, Because the bell rings (from The Imperfectionist)
Michael Jordan interview captioned with "...and I took that personally."

This holiday season I asked myself why the holidays make me feel anxious.

There’s definitely an aspect of it about wanting to do things the “right” way, or at the very least not feeling like the person responsible if things don’t go as planned.

But maybe the biggest issue I have is the internal battle for emotional regulation and self control.

There are things I want to do, and ways I need to work to maintain a positive (or at least functional) mental state, and a wave of holidays is inherently disruptive to that.

Looking at it from Burkeman’s perspective, maybe there’s a way going forward where I can find the things that anchor me and prioritize them, instead of thinking that reactively trying to “get through” the tasks and worries of the moment.

That I can better enjoy the moment as it happens if I make sure I’m taking that time to ground myself in the moment.

We needed to limit things this Christmas with a family member testing positive for COVID. So we focused on the essential and made sure enough Christmas happened while prioritizing taking care of each other.

Did it mean that I didn’t feel some degree of guilt about the things I wasn’t doing? Of course not. Who do you think you’re dealing with?

One step at a time.