The following is a typical conversation I have with a friend each September:
"I'm feeling stressed," she says.
"Yup, getting the kids back to school sure is a lot of work," I reply.
She stares at me with a look of bewilderment. "Who's talking about school? I'm talking about the Christmas rush! I'm so behind already!"
I should have known. Julie, after all, is a Christmas perfectionist. Beginning on Boxing Day, she starts planning for next year's blowout, when everything -- this time -- will be Norman Rockwell perfect. Of course, the big day never turns out quite like her vision.
For some, pushing it to the max is a way to test their mettle. But many of us mere mortals don't find this kind of challenge thrilling. Instead of making the holidays magical, our zeal for perfection leaves us too stressed out to enjoy them. We have stress at work as well as at home, says Richard Earle, managing director of the Canadian Institute of Stress in Toronto. Add in the extra demands of a major holiday -- demands that constitute a third entire job as a producer, choreographer, set designer and caterer -- and it's no wonder we feel frazzled.
So what fuels this annual drive into overdrive? According to Paul Hewitt, a researcher at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver who has been studying the psychology of perfectionism for 15 years, perfectionists fall into three categories. There are those for whom high performance is motivated from within, those who go to the max in the hopes of pleasing others, and those who want people around them to conform to their standards.
At Christmastime all three types are bombarded with images and hype that may exacerbate their, er, natural tendencies. Throw family, social pressure and money -- all of which can be emotionally freighted -- into the mix and you have the ingredients for a perfectionist's perfect storm.
Don't despair. You can overcome the urge to do it all. Follow this easy-as-store-bought-pie advice for a relaxed (really!) holiday.