There is so much to do at this time of year: buying the perfect presents and wrapping them to department-store standards, dressing a tree worthy of the Rockefeller Center and creating an elaborate dinner table.
And don’t even get us started on the endless social media posts to show the world what a perfectly perfect Christmas you are having.
However, this desire for unobtainable perfection (come on – The Rockefeller Center?) could be having a negative effect on your mental health and the best thing you can do for your wellbeing, is take it down a notch or two.
‘Perfectionism can be described as having impossibly high standards and expectations,’ says Ruairí Stewart, a London-based psychotherapist who specialises in self-esteem and relationships.
‘But it runs much deeper than that. It could be defined as having an all-or-nothing mindset that tends to lead a person to frame things as either being perfect or a complete failure.
‘It might seem as though the pursuit of perfection is what drives a perfectionist’s behaviour, but on a deeper level it is also the fear of failure and being seen as a failure by others.’
Realistically, does it really matter if the presents are perfectly wrapped with a hand-tied bow? And no one is asking you to be Jamie Oliver on Christmas Day. Most friends and family members are just happy to be in your company.
‘Perfectionists often set unrealistically high expectations for themselves,’ says Ruairí. ‘They also tend to overlook the fact that these standards are unachievable, unrealistic and in many ways irrational, which sets them up for disappointment.
‘They are quick to find fault and overly self-critical. They tend to procrastinate for fear of failure and so delay doing anything productive at all. This can create further problems leaving them to rush things at the last minute.
‘When they do fail, they think they are seen as a failure by others. This leads them into a never-ending cycle of self-defeating pursuits to prove themselves, and can lead to judgmental, self-critical thinking.’
Over half (54 per cent) of UK adults are worried about the mental health of someone they know this Christmas, according to a survey published by the Mental Health Foundation.
The survey also found that 31 per cent of adults reported that they were personally feeling anxious or stressed as they enter the festive season. Christmas is supposed to be a joyful time of year, but for some it’s one of the hardest.
To help manage your mental wellbeing over the holidays, the charity has come up with some tips which include turning down the volume on your internal critic.
‘The first step is to have awareness of your perfectionist thinking and to challenge your thoughts around it,’ says Ruairí.
‘This means tuning in and identifying any all-or-nothing ways of thinking. If you discover them, ask yourself “would you hold anyone else to these standards?” Also, allow for imperfection and let the day be what it is. By choosing to allow things not to be perfect, you leave more under your control because you will be less likely to procrastinate.
‘Make time for self-care. Take breaks to decompress so you don’t feel overwhelmed and frustrated. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Reach out to someone if you feel overwhelmed. This could be with holiday preparations or it could just be to vent about how you are feeling.
Finally, reframe mistakes or shortcomings as learning experiences. By doing this, you are taking ownership of the experience and using it to grow and learn, not seeing it as something shameful that you should feel bad about.’
‘Instead of creating a holiday that is perfect, focus on fully enjoying the season and those you will celebrate it with,’ says Vanessa Gebhardt, mind coach at Freeletics, the AI-based fitness and mindset coaching platform. ‘Gratitude is more than simply saying “thank you”.
It’s expressing appreciation for what you have and recognising the things beyond a price tag. By adapting a practice of gratitude, we can shift our mindset to better enjoy what we do have rather than nit-picking what is missing and what we could have done better when perfectionism creeps in.’
‘Social comparison is a trap that many people fall into over Christmas,’ says Hazel Gale, a master practitioner of cognitive hypnotherapy and clinical hypnosis for hypnotherapy app Clementine.
‘As Instagram fills up with pictures of perfect family gatherings, pricey presents and holiday snaps, it’s normal to reflect on what you have, to see if it matches up. But just because it’s normal, it doesn’t mean it’s helpful.
‘You are feeding the idea that your worth is defined by the success, appearance or belongings of others – and it isn’t.
‘The good news is that you can take control of this habit. With a little practice, you can notice the thoughts that threaten to bring you down and let them go.
‘See it as a challenge if you like; to catch your mind in the comparison act. When you do this, the thoughts themselves will start to lose their power and instead you can create space for more positive and productive thinking about, say, where your next mince pie will be coming from, or how many cloves you should put in the mulled wine.’
To talk about mental health in an open, judgement-free space, join our Facebook group, Mentally Yours.
Need support? Contact the Samaritans
For emotional support you can call the Samaritans 24-hour helpline on 116 123, email [email protected], visit a Samaritans branch in person or go to the Samaritans website.
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