Five ways to help you enjoy your holidays

As the UK basks in warm weather and schools break up for summer, many people begin to look forward to their holidays and time off with the family. Sometimes though, holidays don't live up to expectations. Our families can drive us mad. The weather breaks. Planes get delayed. The longed-for time off suddenly doesn't seem so special after all.

What can we do to retain a sense of proportion and stop ourselves falling out with everyone?

1. Let go of unrealistic expectations

We can have unrealistic expectations in the following ways:

  • We expect too much of ourselves. For example, if we're a parent, we expect ourselves to be calm and measured all holiday. We tell ourselves off when we're short tempered with the children, or we can expect ourselves to have that "beach-ready body" and be disappointed in our lumps and bumps.
  • We expect too much of others. We might expect our children to be co-operative, our partner to anticipate our needs, or our friends to always be sociable.
  • We expect our holidays to be perfect, forgetting about British weather, our hay fever, the fact that we're easily bored...

When we set expectations such as these, we're setting up a tension between what we want and the way things really are.

It can help us if we can recognise such expectations for what they are - wishes, not reality.

If we can accept ourselves, and others, as humans who make mistakes, we can be kinder to ourselves and kinder to others. This brings us a sense of space and freedom where we're not constrained by a sense of "it should be like this".

2. Let go of negative comparisons

We can make ourselves unhappy by comparing ourselves with others. We may look at someone else in their bikini, wish we could be as slim, and become cross with ourselves for overeating. We look at someone else's parenting and wish we could be as relaxed as them, or as organised.

Inevitably when we make comparisons we are looking at our perceptions of someone else's strengths and comparing them with our weaknesses. When we have low self-esteem, we rarely find a strength and compare it with someone else's weakness. It's always about how bad we are in comparison with others.

All we are doing when we make negative comparisons is underlining to ourselves our sense of inadequacy. It can be helpful to challenge ourselves when we notice this trait and try to replace the negative thought with a positive one. We can begin to focus on what we do well and changes we are working towards rather than what we think is wrong.

3. Challenge our inner critic

Negative comparisons come from our inner critic - a part of ourselves that has listened to criticisms in the past and internalised them. There's no need to be cross with ourselves for being self-critical. The inner critic has perhaps been there to protect us from hurt. After all, if we anticipate criticism, it means we can try to change before someone else criticises us.

There are various ways to challenge that negative, internal voice that tells us we're a failure:

  • When we recognise it, we can give it a name that helps to minimise it and to see it not as the whole truth about ourselves, but just a story we tell ourselves. So we might call our inner critic something like "Mrs Not Good Enough" or "Mr Bully Boy".
  • Give your inner critic a silly voice. How do those criticisms sound when they're said by a cartoon character such as Bugs Bunny?

Notice what your inner critic is saying. Is it dealing with absolutes, for example "you always fail... you always mess things up... you never...". Is this true? All the time? Can you think of some exceptions?

4. Practise gratitude

Gratitude is a great antidote to disappointed expectations. Often we see what we are looking for. If we're critical, we'll see things to criticise. This can kill enjoyment.

Gratitude is all about changing our perception. It's about assessing a situation and finding the good in it. Whether or not we are grateful is our choice.

When you're feeling dissatisfied, take another look around you. What is there here that you can turn around into a piece of luck? Make it a game to try and find the positives in each situation.

5. Take action

When we're feeling disappointed, comparing ourselves with others or listening to our inner critic, we are caught up in our own feelings. Feelings such as shame and self-doubt can paralyse us into inaction.  

Focusing on others and taking action to help them can lift us out of negativity. We begin to feel that we have something to offer, something to contribute to others, and that we can make a difference to them. We feel empowered and more confident.

So it might help us to make some plans, gather some people or our family together, and take responsibility for creating some fun.

It's important to remember that you're not doing this for brownie points or to be appreciated, you're doing it to serve others. This helps you to take the focus off yourself and what other people think of you. You are looking after your own needs for connection and purpose by making a positive contribution.

So this summer be kind to yourself and others by being aware of your expectations and your perceptions. Remember to notice what's good about the summer. Remember that you can take responsibility for your happiness by making choices about what you think.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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