4 Ways to Reduce Holiday Stress Caused by Perfectionism

Verywell / Bailey Mariner

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Holiday perfectionism is one of the main causes of holiday stress. When perfectionism flares up around the holidays, not only are perfectionists unable to fully enjoy the festivities, but neither is anyone else around them.

Whether it’s spending all day cooking the perfect recipes for the holiday feast, making sure the house is perfectly decorated, or procuring the perfect gifts and then spending all day wrapping them perfectly, holiday perfectionism can cause worry and distress if things don't go perfectly according to plan.

As a result, both the perfectionist and their loved ones often find themselves relieved when the holidays are finally over. Unfortunately, this experience can mean losing sight of what the holidays are really all about, which is gathering with our family members and connecting with friends in a shared appreciation for one other.

If these scenarios sound familiar and you think you may be experiencing holiday perfectionism, fortunately, there are ways to cope. Here, we'll take a close look at holiday perfectionism, the contributing factors that can cause it, and offer some tips for reducing holiday stress so you can actually enjoy the most wonderful time of the year with your nearest and dearest.

If you're spending the holidays with just your immediate family, you might feel even more pressure to make sure everything is "perfect" and everyone is pleased. Remind yourself that no one is perfect. Try to look for the gifts within the imperfections themselves—that's where you'll find the most contentment and joy.

What Is Holiday Perfectionism?

Perfectionists tend to convince themselves that they’re just high achievers, but there are some key differences between high achievement and perfectionism. When it comes to holiday perfectionism, an individual's happiness and overall satisfaction with an experience are key distinguishing factors.

Holiday high-achievers busy themselves with holiday activities that create lasting memories, but if everything doesn’t get done on time, it’s OK—the focus stays on the fun and festivities. This is not so with holiday perfectionism. For the holiday perfectionist, if everything doesn’t get done (and done perfectly), it’s a stressful, disappointing experience for the perfectionist, and subsequently, for everyone else involved.

In fact, perfectionist tendencies are often tied to certain anxiety disorders such as social anxiety, panic disorder, and a condition known as perfectionism OCD. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) explains that perfectionism and anxiety often go hand in hand, causing "what if" thinking that can spiral out of control if things are not "perfect."

Holiday high-achievers find success in their planning and execution by cutting corners here and there in order to get everything done. Holiday perfectionism, however, involves going all-out in just about every area of the holiday festivities—down to every last detail. Holiday perfectionism involves high demands and expectations, which leads to little to no enjoyment and even feelings of failure.

How Perfectionism Causes Holiday Stress

The main consequence of holiday perfectionism is negative self-talk that contributes to holiday stress. Instead of enjoying the holiday season as a time of celebration and sharing, holiday perfectionism and the pressure of being the "perfect" host causes people to feel inferior, overwhelmed, and unhappy since nothing will ever meet their impossibly high standards.

It's understandable to want things to be "just right" for your loved ones when you gather during this special time of year. After all, they deserve the best, right? People who are perfectionists and people-pleasers by nature may believe that they only have the best of intentions around the holidays, though their fear of rejection if things are not perfect often stands in the way of their true enjoyment.

You might be experiencing holiday perfectionism if:

  • Every gift must be "the best." Whether it's meticulously made by hand or spent hours shopping online in search of the "perfect" present, you are determined to find the best gifts for each person on your list. And all throughout the process you’re not even enjoying yourself, and the act of giving, which is supposed to make you feel good, starts to feel like a burden.
  • The holiday greeting cards must be flawless. You spend days on end drafting up the perfect two-page, single-spaced letter to impress your loved ones, making sure you include all the detailed highlights of your past year. There may be an accompanying hand-written note for everyone on your list. The process inevitably becomes stressful, and you fall behind. You deviate from your master plan, cutting corners and beating yourself up for not getting it done on time or perfectly.
  • You spend all day on the holiday meal. You slave away in the kitchen all day and your back and feet start to hurt. You deny your loved ones when they ask if they can help you because you feel you must bear the burden on your own in order to fully impress them with your culinary skills. You also worry that your recipes aren’t elaborate enough, and therefore, you cannot enjoy any of it.
  • You procrastinate on other aspects of your life. You are far too preoccupied making sure you are the perfect host and that you execute the holiday festivities flawlessly. As a result, you start falling behind on important aspects of daily life and even your job. You even start avoiding aspects of the holiday planning because you feel it deserves your full attention, which you are unable to provide.
  • The kids look exhausted and stressed—and it's not even 12 days before Christmas. Your negative energy might be starting to wear them out, too.
  • You’re doing way too many things! How can you bother with celebration and enjoyment when you are too busy planning? Despite your monumental efforts, you convince yourself that everything you are planning still isn't good enough.

Holiday perfectionism robs people of the very joy and satisfaction they're seeking to achieve in the first place. But it doesn't need to be that way.

How to Reduce Holiday Stress

Holiday perfectionism can be overcome, and you'll be relieved once you simplify your holiday season by relaxing your high standards—and especially your judgment of yourself. Here are a few ways to reduce holiday stress brought on by perfectionism.

Get to Know Your Inner Perfectionist

Now that you know the signs of holiday perfectionism, start by looking at yourself and examining your thought and behavioral patterns a little more closely. Acknowledge whether or not you have perfectionist tendencies, and if your perfectionism flares up during the holiday season. Becoming aware of your patterns is the first step toward learning how to break free from them.

If you feel you must do something to a certain (high) standard or you'll disappoint people, it's likely holiday perfectionism. If you choose not to do something because you know you won't enjoy it and you don't stress out when things don't turn out perfectly, then you are probably not a perfectionist.

Examine How Your Behavior Affects Others

Practice the process of cognitive restructuring by first paying attention to what you tend to tell yourself whenever your inner perfectionist shows up, and then challenging those thoughts. Are you afraid that the holidays won’t be fun for your family if you don't make everything perfect for everyone in some capacity?

Instead, reexamine your thought patterns by considering how your own mood (overwhelmed and stressed or happy and content) might be affecting the happiness and enjoyment of others.

Embrace the Idea of 'Perfectly Imperfect'

Challenge yourself to do things somewhat imperfectly—and to be OK with it. Take shortcuts if need be; do things mostly well. See how it feels, and practice coping in small increments as you get used to this new way of thinking and being. This will eventually allow you to feel more in control of your situation without having to make it perfect and can even alleviate some of your holiday perfectionist anxiety.

Remember the Charlie Brown Christmas tree? That imperfect tree was still decorated with love and care—and was one of the most special trees to the children who adored it.

Ask for Support from Loved Ones

If you find that you're experiencing stress or anxiety due to your holiday perfectionism, try talking to a close friend or family member about it. If you’re experiencing stress and anxiety levels that feel unmanageable, you might want to talk to a mental health professional, who can provide you with evidence-based tools to help manage your thoughts and behaviors.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which focuses on replacing negative or irrational thoughts with more positive ones, may help you manage anxiety and stress brought on by holiday perfectionism.

A Word From Verywell

Whether it’s the impossible standards of holiday bliss sold to us by marketing campaigns or the nostalgia of holiday greatness from our childhoods that we’re trying to match (or outdo), holiday perfectionism can get in the way of being able to actually enjoy ourselves.

The bottom line is that holiday perfectionism can ruin the joy of the season for both you and your loved ones. Fortunately, with a few simple tools and by seeking support, you can free yourself from the stress and unhappiness that arises from it, and learn how to truly enjoy the holidays with your friends and family.

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Rifkind N. How perfectionism can affect your holidays. Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

  2. Houghton K. And then I’ll be happy! Stop sabotaging your happiness and put your own life first. Globe Pequot Press, 2010.

Additional Reading

By Elizabeth Scott, PhD
Elizabeth Scott, PhD is an author, workshop leader, educator, and award-winning blogger on stress management, positive psychology, relationships, and emotional wellbeing.