Are Expectations Making You Dread the Holidays?

Holiday Dread Is Real

Are you dreading the holidays this year?

You’re not alone. According to Charity Clinic,

“Many people actually dread the holiday season and would prefer to avoid it altogether. According to a survey, 45% of those people living in the United States would choose to skip out on the holidays, rather than deal with the stress of it all.” (

The holidays can often be an intense time for folks, even for families that are not going through big shifts in structure (divorce, re-marriage, custody issues, etc.). So it makes sense that for folks that are in the middle of challenging family dynamics, it could be even more intense and could even lead to anxiety and depression.

But it doesn’t have to be that way for you.

If you’re reading this blog, you now know that you can try some new ways to prepare both your heart and your home for the holidays and also move through them with a little more ease and even some joy!

Two powerful things that can bring on the dread (a feeling about a perceived future experience) and the unhappiness (a feeling in the moment of current experience) are expectations and triggers.


In this blog, we’ll explore expectations. (You can expect a blog about triggers next week!)

Everyone has expectations – pretty much all day every day, but we hardly notice them (I expect to be safe writing this draft; I expect my dog to want to go for a walk soon; I expect my cat to want to be fed…again…soon). During the holidays, those expectations come more into focus because they can feel bigger, stronger, more compelling (I expect to be tired from upholding a bunch of traditions; I expect to be sick from eating unhealthy holiday foods; I expect my finances to flounder from all the holiday purchases; etc.).

“More than anything else, our expectations determine our reality. And our expectations also impact those around us. In a self-fulfilling prophecy, people may rise or fall depending on our expectations and beliefs.

Research shows that this happens because when we believe in someone:

 We treat them better than people we think will fail,

  • We give them more opportunities to succeed than we give those we think will fail,
  • We give them more accurate, helpful feedback than we give others, and
  • We do more teaching because we believe it’s time well spent.

Notice that it’s not just belief/expectation that changes the situation – it’s what we DO as a result of our expectation. In this example of positive expectations, we help create a winning situation.

Unfortunately, the opposite is also true – when we don’t have positive expectations about someone, it’s likely that we will act in ways that will make it more likely that our belief will be confirmed.

“This is known as the “Nocebo Effect” – letting your doubts cloud your belief in someone (or something) practically ensures their failure. Your expectations shape and bend your reality…What is expected shapes what happens.”

And, of course, it’s not just our expectations of others. What we expect of OURSELVES also impacts how we experience the world. If we feel like we are not meeting our own expectations or are letting our families down because we aren’t living up to certain family or social expectations, we show up with less energy and we see life through a less joyful lens. We have put chains on ourselves that we don’t need and don’t really deserve.

Clearly, our expectations can make or break our experience of the holidays. So how can we use this information to create a lovely holiday season?

Are Expectations Rational?

stressing accounting during holidaysMost people think their expectations of the world, of other people, and of themselves are rational. We feel like they are based on past experience (which is certainly real, right?) or on some trusted theory or idea of how the world works and how we fit into it.

But what if the past does not predict the future? The one lesson I remember clearly from my biostatistics course in college more than three decades ago was that one part of gaming theory says that the past cannot predict the future. So how come most things seem to repeat themselves? Um…maybe it’s about our expectations based on what we’ve seen in the past or heard was true in the past?

As was shown above, we can greatly impact how things turn out by our words, actions and ways of being…all based on what we expect! Perhaps if we change what we expect, we can change our experience of a certain situation. And perhaps we can even change the future.

Yeah, but we can’t control other people, right? Right! There is still a beautiful force at work that is well beyond our control. It’s other people’s ability to choose what they want. But if you choose to be different in a situation, it just might make them choose to be different, too.

How will you KNOW that kind of shift is possible for you in any certain situation? You can’t know really know it until you try it. I have been practicing creating the world I want to live in by becoming who I want to be in that world for a long time and it’s working for me!

My world is more loving, more supportive, more connected than what I hear about other people’s experience of the world. I’m so grateful I learned about my power to change my expectations so I can change my own experience of the world!

What if this present moment is our true point of power – the one in which we DECIDE what we most want the future to become?? What if we have both more power than we think and also less control? How can those two things be true?

More personal power to choose combined with less control of other people and circumstances sounds both scary and exciting. It is both those things and so much more! Well, I guess I can only say it’s those things and more for me. You get to decide what it is for you!

Choosing What We Want

What if we get to decide?

What if we let go of whatever others expect of us, what we expect of others, and what we expect of ourselves? What if we truly believe that what is best for us is also best for everyone around us?

When deciding what we want, it’s sometimes helpful to make a list of what we currently have/experience. Name it so you can celebrate it or so you can shift it.

As a first step, I’d recommend making a list of the things you dread about the holidays (your expectations of less desirable experiences/feelings). List as many things as you can that just pop into your mind when you sit to think about it.

Then go back and consider one situation at a time – think of what you want to feel even if you think it will be impossible to feel that way. To make it feel more real or more rational to you, you can think of ways that you might make the new feeling happen.

It’s okay to be creative and even fanciful about the solutions – you don’t have to implement any of them! But being open to silly or unrealistic solutions may make it easier to find a really good option or to even start to believe just a tiny bit that you can feel differently and that it’s safe to create a new expectation.

It might be easiest to create a sort of chart where the first column lists the dreaded situation. In the second column you would write what you’d rather feel about the situation. And in a third column, you could write one or more possible solutions. Here is a very simple example:

What I Dread What I’d Rather Feel Possible Solutions
Making cookies for the extended family so they get them in time for the holidays. Less hurried, less stressed about the deadline and costs. I do like the tradition of making the family cookie recipes, though. I can make them in January and February and send them to family as they are ready. OR I can ask other family members to make the cookies this year! OR I can make one cookie per person and be done sooner! OR I can take pictures of last year’s cookies and make a collage of that and send them with the recipes instead of actual cookies!
Running out of money buying gifts. Excited about the gifts I give. I can choose to give homemade gifts or gift certificates of activities I can do with folks instead of material presents. OR I can get excited about new income coming soon (and take action in that direction). OR I can skip gifts altogether!
Seeing a family member that have very different life experiences and very different points of view about things I consider to be important.** Curious, peaceful, and grateful. I can choose to not go to the event where that person will be (or not invite them to my event). OR I can go and, no matter what they say, I can respond in the way I would want them to respond to me. OR I can go and pretend everything they say is actually lyrics to a song in a Broadway musical…and sing it in my head while they are talking!

**A special note about expecting other people to behave differently than you have ever seen them behave. If there is any chance you being physically or even emotionally unsafe, I invite you to consider not being with that person at all. It’s okay to make your safety the most important thing. I’m a big fan of that, actually.

What if we allow ourselves to choose what we think is most important about a holiday (aka, how we’d like to FEEL) and then find a way to create that experience?

Is it possible to really believe that we can create something meaningful and enjoyable for ourselves and our families? I know it is because I’ve been doing it. Now it’s your turn!

I can’t wait to hear about what you create for this holiday season!

Author: Jennifer Sutton

Located in the Finger Lakes Region of Central New York, Jennifer Sutton facilitates the transformation of individuals and groups using art, tapping, curiosity, brain training, and laughter to help release limiting negative self-talk patterns as well as physical/emotional pain and create more personal peace, safety, and self-confidence. Jennifer offers individual and group coaching as well as training opportunities in person and/or virtually. Sought out for her deep expertise in the well-being space, Jennifer is known for her warm, empathic, and fun facilitation and presence. Connect with Jennifer at