Save Us From Holiday Stress

The topic has been expectations and their fragile and unreal nature. Generally speaking, the person with fewer expectations is actually prepared to harvest more happiness, whereas someone with a lot of them will often reap disappointment.

To play host to expectations is to set ourselves up to feel deprived, or even cheated. When our expectations are not fulfilled, it gives us an excuse to hold a grudge, nurse a grievance, and eat our way through one holiday event after another like some kind of avenging angel of doom.

The thing about an expectation is, until a person knows how the scenario will play out, there is the constant tension of anxiety, because the outcome is unknown. Of course, self-imposed mental torture is not the only cause of seasonal discomfort. Dr. Elizabeth Scott wrote,

The problem with the holiday season is that we often experience too much of a good thing. While stress itself is necessary for our survival and zest for life (researchers call this positive type of stress “eustress”), too much stress has a negative impact on our health, both mental and physical.

A very large majority of people react with overeating, emotional eating, comfort eating, etc. The finer points could be discussed all day, and still, the end result is a lot of consumption that has nothing to do with supplying the body’s nutritional needs in the most optimal way. You are surrounded by people you might see annually at most, and this encounter will inform their mental picture of you until next winter. They will remember you as the 30-pounds-overweight cousin who never stopped eating.

To make it all worse, the relatives, friends, and businesses who supply the holiday party snacks or full-course dinners are of course operating at the top of their game. They want you to swoon and brag all year about the fantastic things you ate. It’s as if their sole mission in life is to vanquish your good intentions and sabotage your health program well into the next 12 months.

Being “zen”

Whether it stems from bad stress or “eustress,” expectation anxiety does have an antidote, which is acceptance. The practice of acceptance is frequently recommended. This is of course a tenet of all 12-step programs, as described in the famous prayer, which asks for “the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.” When circumstances shift and are no longer what they were, the goal is to abandon the failure mindset and embrace the opportunity mindset. When the Universe fails to fall in with your plans, a good backup strategy is to try changing to cooperate with the Universe. It might achieve surprising results.

The most enlightened view seems to include the ability to stay serenely neutral. The famous parable of the farmer has been told in several versions that still have the same message. The whole point here is, we don’t have to let ourselves be jerked around like destiny’s marionettes. To entertain expectations, and then feel some kind of way about their fulfillment or lack thereof, is a constantly reactive state that leads to futility. By embracing a rigid attitude, the average human leaves a whole lot of personal power on the table, unused.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Managing the Seemingly Inevitable Holiday Season Stress,”, 01/15/21
Source: “The story of the Taoist Farmer,”, 12/07/21
Image by Priit Tammets/CC BY 2.0

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
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Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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