Life

“Why rejecting the idea of the ‘perfect Christmas’ is the best thing we can do for our mental health”

There’s enough pressure to have a good time at this time of year without the need to achieve the ‘perfect Christmas,’ argues Stylist’s junior digital writer Lauren Geall.

As anyone who knows me would tell you, I bloody love Christmas. From the moment I feel that first pang of excitement (probably sometime in September, not going to lie) to the day itself, I am up for anything associated with the C word. Ice skating? I’m there. Christmas markets and mulled cider? Of course. Extravagant decorations and twinkly lights? 100 times yes.

With all that considered, I’m sure you can imagine the long mental to-do list I’m carrying around with me at this time of year. There’s a million and one stereotypical festive activities and traditions I want to partake in – picture me, Christmas music and all, baking gingerbread while drinking hot chocolate, and you’re halfway to understanding my December vibe – and skipping out on one of those treasured activities is rarely an option in my mind.

But of course, as one woman limited by the laws of space and time, there is only so much Christmas I can fit in every year. While the fictional Lauren in my head spends her December skipping from festive activity to festive activity, the real me spends a lot of time racing about in a flustered manner struggling to get even half of it done. And when those festive aspirations include other people – a family board game or two is my kind of thing – it’s even harder to ensure everything goes to plan. After all, once the whole family has consumed copious amounts of stuffing and pigs in blankets at lunch, it’s hard to get anyone motivated to do anything but lie on the sofa and cuddle the dog. 

The perfect Christmas doesn't exist – and that's OK.

Of course, I am well aware that my ability to even dream of all those festive activities is wrapped up in a lot of privilege, especially as someone who has a family and home to spend Christmas day in. But as someone who also deals with a mental health condition, it’s important for me to challenge the way I think at this time of year – no matter how trivial the issue may seem.

Because underneath all of these hopes and plans is that one status that seems to elude us all: perfection. Despite being told time and time again that perfection doesn’t exist – in the words of Hannah Montana, “nobody’s perfect” – it’s easy to fall back into the same patterns and ways of thinking. Especially when the idea of a “perfect Christmas” is so prevalent in everything we do at this time of year - and that’s why I now spend every year challenging the stereotype.

Studies have repeatedly shown that perfectionism can lead to increased levels of mental health conditions including anxiety, depression, OCD and anorexia. Defined by researchers Thomas Curran and Andrew Hill as “an irrational desire to achieve along with being overly critical of oneself and others,” perfectionism can lead us to develop a negative inner voice which tells us we’re not good enough, popular enough or successful enough. And that’s a massive problem, especially during the festive season – research by the mental health charity Mind previously found that over a quarter of people feel the pressure to have the “perfect Christmas,” with one in ten people feeling unable to cope.

“The stress of organising presents and get-togethers can bring pretty much anyone down,” says David Price, CEO and workplace wellbeing expert at Health Assured. “A perfect Christmas is something many struggle to achieve, and that struggle creates a pressure cooker mentally.”

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At Christmas, it can be even harder for us to remember that life doesn’t always go to plan, especially when the images posted all over social media seem to suggest we’re the only ones not having the time of our lives. Families will argue, turkeys will burn and the weather doesn’t always play along. Mental health conditions don’t take a break because it’s the 25th of December, and societal problems such as homelessness and poverty continue to exist.

Of course, it’s okay to indulge in the spirit of the season and have a bit of fun – after all, it’s healthy to shake off the stresses of life every once in a while – but it’s also important not to put too much pressure on ourselves to create a picture perfect Christmas, because it doesn’t exist. And that’s OK.

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