By Sharon M. Rivkin, M.A., M.F.T.
For many, Valentine’s Day, the day of love and romance, has become yet another holiday that simply causes STRESS. It seems that as soon as Christmas and New Years are over, out come the Valentine cards in the store. Seeing those bright red cards and shiny hearts, when my Christmas tree is still standing, causes a certain level of stress, which if not addressed, will lead to anxiety, and then fear…yes, fear. After all, Christmas has barely ended, and I already have to think about creating another perfect day…which I may not do right (causing stress), which may cause hurt feelings (causing anxiety), and which could possibly lead to a fight about our relationship (causing fear that my partner might not care or love me as I had thought)! Yet, here we go again, taking a day that could be fun and loving, and stressing over it. No matter how hard we try, stress will never make us feel very loving to ourselves, let alone to our Valentine.
Our society has sold us a lot of expectations around Valentine’s Day. We’re supposed to be and feel loving. We’re supposed to get the ideal card and gift for our Valentine. We’re supposed to have a special dinner and a “perfect” day…or else. Moreover, certain common stressors like, “I don’t have a Valentine,” or “I have a Valentine, but we’re not doing very well,” or “I just met a great person, but are we Valentines?” make us dread Valentine’s Day, rather than look forward to it.
So, how do we NOT stress on Valentine’s Day, but instead use it as the beautiful holiday that it truly is, to bring out our love and caring for our Valentine? How do we use it as a day to remember what’s good in our relationship in and of itself, and not because it’s Valentine’s Day?
For starters, it’s important to not get caught up in what Valentine’s Day is “supposed” to be or how it “should” be. Let go of the huge expectations surrounding the day, the gift, the dinner, the card, or the perfect sentiment. Anytime we put too much pressure on an event, we are usually disappointed when the outcome isn’t what we envisioned. More often than not, this unhealthy expectation can lead to a fight with our partner, or unkind words spoken with much regret. Our stress level dramatically rises because we’ve put so much weight on this one day, and now we’re wondering if our relationship is in trouble, something we didn’t experience the day before. “The day has been ruined because we fought,” and “if we’re fighting on Valentine’s Day, what must that mean about our relationship?” are feelings commonly experienced. Reality rarely matches our fantasies.
Forget about the unrealistic expectations surrounding Valentine’s Day and, instead, focus on the joy that your loved ones bring to your life, for the love you feel and, especially, for the love that is returned to you. Then allow the day to unfold naturally.
In preparation, set aside some special “alone” time before the holiday to consider the following ways to help you simply enjoy Valentine’s Day, without the unnecessary stress:
1. Think about what’s in your heart rather than what the day “should” be. How do I feel, not what should I do?
2. Express what you want to express to your Valentine in your own unique way, not what Hallmark wants to express to your Valentine.
3. Remember, it’s only one day in the life of your relationship, not your whole relationship. It’s an arbitrary day, so you don’t even have to celebrate it if it doesn’t feel right. Nothing terrible will happen to you or your relationship if you don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day.
4. If you feel stress, breathe, and try to put it into perspective. When we feel anxiety, we’re usually over-thinking something and making it bigger than it is. Lower your expectations and keep it simple. Do one special thing on Valentine’s Day, rather than four or five things.
5. Listen to your language when thinking about Valentine’s Day. If there are a lot of shoulds and supposed to’s, stress is entering into your day. Try substituting, “I could” for “should,” and “I want to” for “supposed to.”
6. Stay in reality, rather than letting your fantasies run wild. Check in with your heart…how do you feel? If your heart is beating out of stress, it hurts. If it’s beating out of love, it feels good. Learn the difference and do what’s in your heart, not what’s in the Valentine “box.”