Life Health & Wellbeing

Tuesday 11 December 2018

Katie Byrne: Don’t let the pressure to be perfect ruin your festive season

Breathing Space

Katie Byrne
Katie Byrne
Katie Byrne

Katie Byrne

Christmas Day is nearing and the pressure to have a perfect festive season is on.

Stylish Christmas stockings lined up along the mantelpiece. Tick! Home-made wreathes and garlands. Tick! Matching pyjamas for the children and some sort of novelty outfit for the dog. Tick!

We all have unrealistic expectations during the festive season, but none more than the perfectionist, whose aspirations for a picture-perfect Christmas get more elaborate every year.

They need a table setting that looks like a glossy spread in Elle Decor. They need a spectacular outdoor lighting display to rival the neighbours' - and the neighbours' neighbours. They need a themed Christmas tree (because homespun just doesn't cut it anymore).

The detail-oriented perfectionist goes into overdrive during the festive season. They stay up until 3am handstitching sequins onto a nativity play costume. They get themselves in a spin researching side dishes that have the wow-factor. They RSVP to every invite because, well, it would be rude not to.

And even then it isn't good enough. The perfectionist spends hours decorating a Christmas tree, but if it's not perfectly symmetrical then it's not good enough.

They spend days prepping a dinner only to deem it a disaster when they discover a lump in the mashed potato.

Perfectionism, as Julia Cameron writes in Finding Water, "doesn't believe in practice shots".

"It doesn't believe in improvement," she adds. "Perfectionism has never heard that anything worth doing is worth doing badly - and that if we allow ourselves to do something badly we might in time become quite good at it."

We're all susceptible to perfectionism during the festive season.

However, it's important to remember that the standards we set are largely unattainable while our tireless pursuit of them only leads to stress and anxiety.

Feeling the pressure to pull out all the stops? Here are a few tried-and-tested tips for a perfectly imperfect Christmas.

Compare yourself to yourself

Perfectionists have a tendency to compare themselves to others, especially on social media where filters and angles make everyone else's festive celebrations look better than our own.

The trick to escaping the comparison trap is to look inwards rather than outwards with what Brené Brown calls "healthy striving".

"Healthy striving is self-focused: 'How can I improve?'," she explains in The Gifts of Imperfection. "Perfectionism is other-focused: 'What will they think?'"

In other words, don't compare your festive trimmings and trappings to the people you follow on Instagram. Compare it to the spread you put on last year, while noticing the aspects that you have improved upon.

Take time out

The hectic social whirl at this time of year can be exhausting, especially for perfectionists who often feel obliged to attend every party and meet up with every friend.

If you're feeling the pressure to be the perfect social butterfly this festive season, remember that you can always say no.

Likewise, if you're feeling overwhelmed with nights out, remember to offset them with nights in. The day on/day off plan works a treat during the festive season, particularly where late nights and alcohol are concerned.

Go for 'good enough'

Do you really need to wow guests with origami-style napkin folding, or will a simple folded-over napkin do the trick? Do you actually need three different types of poultry - a 'turdecken' to perfectionists - or will the standard turkey-and-stuffing suffice?

Perfectionists always strive for 110pc, but the truth is that 90pc is often more than enough.

Productivity experts know this as the 'good enough principle' - and it could be the difference between a chaotic Christmas and a contented one.

Dig deeper

The best way to overcome perfectionism is to understand the fear that lurks beneath it.

"Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimise or avoid the pain of blame, judgement, and shame," writes Brown.

"It's a shield," she continues. "It's a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it's the thing that's really preventing us from flight."

It can be tempting to rationalise and justify perfectionism as some sort of Type A-superpower but the truth is that it is mostly borne out of insecurity.

If your perfectionist tendencies are holding you ransom this festive season, it might be time to get to the root of the issue.

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