Top 10 Reasons Why We Spend The Holidays on Auto-Pilot

By: Anne Dranitsaris
December 4, 2018 
  4 min read 

Do your traditions create joy and strengthen your bond with others, or, do you just survive the holidays, looking forward to them being over?

The holidays are a time of the year where seasonal anxiety spirals out of control, creating anything but a peaceful, joyous state. Our time is spent thinking about what we should be doing or might be missing, what we are doing next, who might or might not like what gift and how in the world am I going to get the money to pay for this year’s extravaganza!

For some people, the holidays represent a time for fun, family and much merriment, for many, it is a time of simply surviving the season. We forget about the intention of the season and begin to strive to meet the expectations and needs of others, losing ourselves in what we should be doing, rather than doing what we want to do. We find ourselves in social situations that fail to meet our relationship needs just because others want us to be there. The more we do what we think we should, the more distress we experience, the less we take care of ourselves, and the more our unconscious thought patterns drive our behaviour.

The Tyranny of Automatic Pilot (Survival)

Despite all of the opportunities we have today to express our individuality and create life the way we would like to live it, many, many of us are still subject to the tyranny of automatic pilot where we try to meet and conform to expectations. Even when we try to create the holidays differently, we may expect others to be happy about it or do it the way we want to. Not having the courage to step out on our own and do it differently, we adapt, follow, and blame others for not supporting us. We simply survive the holidays and miss the opportunity to create something new and real with our family, our friends, or in our community. With fear being the main driver of this survival behavior, we are unable to celebrate the joy of the season and the love we hold in our hearts. As a result, there is often more distress created in our lives this time of year, as we forget about the true intention of the season.

Here are the top reasons why people continue to have the same disappointing experience every year.

  1. Lack of planning. Because we are on auto pilot, we don’t think about the holiday experience we want to create. We are afraid to suggest our ideas to parents, family or loved ones, and instead, suffer in silence. We might put an idea forward but if it isn’t met with enthusiasm, we abandon it. We don’t expect to have to negotiate or influence our friends and family members, giving them a chance to warm to new ideas.

  2. Gift giving is a competitive event. In many families, members are judged for the presents they give. Members are considered to have bad taste; are called cheap if they buy something of a lesser value or showy if they by something expensive; are judged unappreciative if they don’t show just the right amount of gratitude about a gift. If you don’t have money to buy a gift because you have had a difficult year, you risk being criticized for that or called a loser. We end up buying what we can’t afford to protect ourselves from judgement.

  3. Having a meaningless holiday season. If you don’t embrace the meaning of the holiday season or don’t have a New Year’s tradition of setting goals and celebrating successes, you are sure to stay in survival. The holidays hold so many opportunities to deepen the bonds of love with family and friends; to give to those who aren’t as fortunate; or to celebrate the life that you are living. Seek to add meaning to the holidays and create the experiences you want to have.

  4. Traditions are held on to for their own sake. While we can look forward to many of our holiday traditions, trying to keep them going when children have started their own families or because we did things that way when we were children can spoil the opportunity to create what uniquely belongs to us. In some cases, parents or grandparents threaten to not come for holiday celebrations should the traditions not remain the same.

  5. Afraid to disappoint others. Saying no, sticking to a budget or doing something we want to do will disappoint others who want us to do things their way. Adapting and conforming so we won’t feel guilty or so others won’t be disappointed is a sure fire way to take the enjoyment out of the holidays.

  6. Compare ourselves and our traditions to those of others and come up short. Accepting where we are in our lives and the people who are in it provides us with solid ground to build a joyous experience for ourselves over the holidays. When we compare what we are doing with something other families’ do that seems more loving or fun, we end up feeling cheated or disappointed.

  7. We go for quantity, not quality. In order to fill the emptiness of holiday celebrations past, we try to compensate by over buying for our children, our partners and families. We want to feel the vicarious pleasure that comes from doing what wasn’t done for us and go out of our way to make others feel special, at the expense of ourselves.

  8. Act like human doings, not human beings. We don’t think about how we are going to feel, just what we have to do. Many people disconnect from themselves over the holidays as they don’t want to know how they feel. Staying numb and getting through everything they commit to leads to overeating, excessive drinking and impulsive buying.

  9. We try to show love through actions. We don’t make the holidays about the expression of love. The overbuying of presents, cooking several extravagant meals, trying to go to everything you are invited to and even going out when you need an evening at home are all ways we may be trying to express our love and caring. We try and pack everything that we feel into a month rather than spreading love out over the year.

  10. We aren’t present. Surviving the holidays means that we don’t show up open to sharing ourselves with the people we are with. We drag ourselves around from place to place, doing what is expected of us, but not really engaging. We don’t give to others the most precious gift of all — our selves.

As we navigate our way through the holiday season, we can let ourselves show up for the activities, or we can simply survive, fearing the worst, anticipating being fatigued and overwhelmed, and just wishing it was all over.

Make a commitment to have a mindful holiday season.

This means lots of discussion, self-exploration and the ability to say “no” to the ideal and “yes” to making it real. If you and your family normally create stress by trying to meet unrealistic expectations, make a firm commitment to do things differently this year.

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