For many of us, the winter holidays have changed from a time of pleasant relaxation, quiet celebration, humble gratitude and once-a-year-special treats into a carnival of frenzied activity, regret-filled gluttony, fretful spending and massive angst. The transformation timeline is remarkably consistent with our passage into adult territory, where weighty responsibilities crush joyful traditions.
We lament the pressure we feel to create perfect holiday homes—catalog-quality décor, magazine-perfect menus, and flawless family gatherings. Preparing for the holidays has become a stressful and frenetic series of errands, through crowds and traffic, leaving the celebrants spent—along with their cash.
I was chatting with my closest girlfriend about the holidays, and when I told her I was writing about one of my personal neuroses—the anxiety that accompanies gift-giving—she immediately identified this as one of her problem areas as well. She deftly described the voices of anxiety: “Is this gift good enough? Am I spending enough? Too much? Will they love this gift? What will they think of me for choosing it?” She could feel her throat closing up just discussing it, she said, and as she spoke, one hand unconsciously lifted to shield her neck.
This could be the central whammy of the holiday season. Trying to manage the expectations of others, and to anticipate their reactions to the gifts we give, is a recipe for angst that makes the rest of the holiday to-do list seem insignificant in comparison.
There are two ways to tackle the painful inner dialogue that accompanies gift anxiety. The first is to realize that the people who truly love you don’t give a rat’s patootie about what you buy for them.
The greatest gift you can give is your full and undivided attention—your complete and loving presence—without judgment or distraction.
And isn’t that what you want from them?
The second is to notice that any thoughts about the gift giving process that cause you pain are NOT true. You heard me right—just give it a second to sink in.
I have learned to question the thoughts that make me feel crazy or unworthy or inept, as they are often twisted up versions of the truth. It’s important to pay attention to how my body reliably responds to these thoughts with a corresponding negative emotional state, so I can untangle the thought cluster and arrive at what’s true.
When a painful core belief expresses itself, my mind gets so occupied with that thought that I can’t un-think it, and I can’t identify its lack of usefulness. Instead of labeling the thought as useless, I use that label on myself. I start to believe that not only is the gift not good enough, but (by applying my personal evil extrapolation algorithm) that I am not good enough.
The only way for my soul to call attention to the lie of it is for my heart to thump, my throat to close and my breath to become shallow. I sweat a bit, perhaps have a feeling I want to run away or bury myself beneath the covers, and avoid the whole issue. Sound familiar?
Pay close attention to your body—it is incapable of deceit, and will never lie to you.
If buying a gift for someone sends you into orbit, you might consider what it would feel like not to buy that gift. There are other options for letting that person know how you really feel about them. And if what you truly want to say isn’t kind or loving, why would you be considering giving them a gift at all?
The holidays are a wonderful reminder to align our actions with the truth of who we are, and to share that with the people we love.
You could pick up a rock on a beach on your summer vacation in New England and present it to me in a little box while you tell me how much you missed me this summer, and I would never, EVER think you were cheap. You could cook up a batch of that toffee I love, and bring it by so we could share some with a glass of champagne, and I would never think it wasn’t good enough. You could hand me a single flower bulb in a small glass vase while telling me how much I mean to you, and I would never call you thoughtless.
Try an experiment this year. Without spending more than a few dollars on each person on your list, imagine a small token—a found object, an inspirational quote, a bag of M&M’s in the recipient’s favorite color—that you can use to tell a story about your connection with them. Give it to them in person. Tell them the story. And watch the holiday magic return.
Get the jump on holiday joy. As my holiday gift to you, I am giving away a free 45-minute Holiday Anxiety Relief Kick-start session (HARK!) to anyone who is suffering from gift angst, holiday perfection dis-ease, or to-do list overwhelm. Use the Contact link to schedule, and let’s work through your toughest holiday issue.