Beat Christmas stress and conflict 

Despite our culture’s emphasis on Christmas being a time of goodwill and cheery gatherings, many people find the family Christmas get-together doesn’t quite live up to expectations. For some, Christmas day is filled with tension and stress. Difficult family members can push each others’ buttons until the festive season becomes memorable for all the wrong reasons. Full blown conflict can erupt or people can say things that fuel existing relationship problems.

So how can you prevent the Christmas blues this holiday season? Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

1. Make active choices instead of maintaining the status quo

  • Just because you’ve always had Christmas lunch at Aunt Helen’s place, this doesn’t mean you have to continue doing so. If you’re stressed by long travel times, pointed comments or Uncle Frank’s drunken antics, make alternative arrangements. Some options would include:
  • Inviting everyone to YOUR place for a change
  • Dropping in for afternoon coffee at Aunt Helen’s, instead of being there for the entire lunch
  • Having lunch with friends instead of going to Aunt Helen’s

2. Manage your expectations

Review the mental video clip which reveals your hopes for Christmas day. How closely does it fit what will really happen on the day? If your siblings can’t be in the same room without squabbling, there’s no point visualising them laughing happily for an entire meal. Instead, create a more realistic picture in your mind’s eye. Picture the scene which is likely to take place. Then create a mental image of yourself handling that situation calmly and assertively. After all, you can’t change what other people do. But you can change the way you respond to them.

For help using mental rehearsal techniques to manage your own emotions, download my Stress Free Day podcast.

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3. Get your script ready

If you tend to be dumbstruck when difficult people behave unreasonably,  it’s time to break your pattern of passive behaviour. Before heading off to the family gathering, memorise three or four phrases you can use to handle difficult situations. For example:

  • Let’s talk about something else now
  • I’d prefer not to go into that today
  • Let’s focus on why we’re all here today, which is to enjoy each others’ company
  • I suggest we agree to disagree
  • I’d far rather hear all your news rather than go over that old topic again

Remember to keep these assertive statements brief, clear and respectful. Your aim in using them should be to redirect the conversation, rather than triggering defensive reactions.

4. Avoid over-doing it

It’s called the ‘silly season’ for a reason. And much of that silliness is caused by over-doing things. Cramming too many social commitments into a day. Spending too much on gifts. Eating too many rich foods. Drinking too many cocktails. All of this excess depletes your energy and sets the scene for family conflict.

So you need to plan ahead. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, work out how you can enjoy yourself without over-extending yourself. Answering these questions can help you build a realistic action plan.

  • Who, specifically, do I want to spend time with on Christmas day?
  • How many social commitments am I comfortable fitting into the week of Christmas and New Year?
  • How many hours am I willing to devote to gift buying, food preparation etc? How will I make the most of that time?
  • Who can help me with preparations? If necessary, what will I outsource.
  • When can I fit in exercise between Christmas and New Year?
  • What, specifically, will I eat and drink at for breakfast, lunch and dinner on Christmas day?

Need help coping with the stress of difficult relationships? Book a coaching program with Eleanor Shakiba now.

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