How to Handle the Stress of Christmas – The Dreaded Family Get Together.

For a lot of people, Christmas is a time for family get togethers. The popular view is of happy families harmoniously enjoying Christmas.

The reality is often different… That sister in law with the condescending attitude. The cousin with the acid tongue. The catty aunts who make harpies look like angels. The boozy uncle who annoys everyone with his drunken conversation and ability to stick to you like glue no matter what you do to get rid of him. The brother who delights in picking fights with you. The mother who never misses an opportunity to point out your faults. The father who treats you like a nothing.

It can leave you dreading Christmas and finding it hard to keep your cool on the day.

So how do you manage it?

The first thing to consider is “Do I have to go to the family Christmas?”

There are many reasons why you may answer Yes and many reasons why you may answer No. If the answer is No then, you need to consider whether you are going to go or not. If the answer is Yes then you need to work out a strategy to keep yourself calm at the family Christmas get together.

If there are unresolved issues in the family, it can be helpful to see a counsellor. You may be able to identify ways you can discuss these issues with your family at a less stressful time of year. Or you may decide that conversation will never be productive and aim instead to heal yourself from the pain of these issues and identify ways you can let go of the pain and enjoy the day. Or at least not murder someone!

Talking about the pain to a counsellor can be really helpful. It allows you to express your pain and be heard. It allows you to process the pain and find ways to move forward in life. It allows you to identify ways to cope with the family situation.

Good preparation in the lead up to that family get together is also important. Dwelling on the day and imagining all the nasty things that are going to be said and done to you will only serve to increase your stress. And on the day you are more likely to get angry or upset at something someone else does. In a way your thoughts about what you fear happening will become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

A really effective way to divert your attention from dwelling on the day is to practice mindfulness. Ensure you have some time each day to just practice a simple mindfulness meditation. If you practice mindfulness regularly you will find you become a lot calmer and it is easier to cope with the stressful events of life, such as the family get together.

Resolve to stay positive. One practice many use is to find something in the situation to be grateful of. Jamie realised her catty aunts were what kept her from getting caught up in the politics of her workplace. She decided she was grateful for their behaviour because it led to her abhorring such nastiness and meant she was not stressed by events in her workplace. She was able to go to the Christmas event and find her aunts’ behaviour amusing. Before she had discovered the gratitude point she has always become enraged at their behaviour, now it was something to laugh at.

On the day other things you can do to remain calm include:

  • Avoid drinking too much. The more you drink the lower your inhibitions and the more likely you will lose your temper at someone and cause the kind of scene you were hoping to avoid.
  • If there are family members arguing, or that sister in law is out with her comments, stop for a moment. Ask yourself “What is important for me today? Do I want to have a nice day? Will arguing with her achieve that? Is it worthwhile risking the relationship with my brother because of her? Does it matter what she thinks?” I am sure you can think of many more questions to ask. The important thing is to stop. Take a mindful breath. Check in with your feelings and the outcome you want. And, instead of reacting to that person, respond. That response may involve just walking away from them. Dignity intact.
  • If you are caught up with the acid tongued cousin, steer the conversation away from the nastiness towards positive shared experiences. Few people can resist a positive family story. You will all enjoy yourselves more if you are reminiscing about things that grow family bonds.
  • If things are getting too negative take a breather. Remove yourself from the conversation. Look yourself in the mirror. Make eye contact with yourself and acknowledge how you are feeling. Then have compassion on yourself. Try 4-7-8 breathing. If you need to take a long bathroom break to achieve this, then do it. Get involved in another activity at the get together. Some of the more pleasant family members may be heading off on a walk. Join them. Walking is a great stress reliever and anger is dissipated by the movement of walking. You may find making a joke about the negative topic can help.
  • If your mother/father is there causing the pain he/she always causes. Take that breather and tell yourself how it feels. Find someone else to spend time with. Get involved in other activities. Leave the get together at the end of the day and shake off the negative energy left by your parent. Most importantly, don’t give him/her permission to ruin your day. Yes you want his/her acceptance and love but that may never happen. Give yourself the love and acceptance you need. And see a counsellor to work through this.

Have a wonderful Christmas. May you find gratitude, humour, self-compassion, love and acceptance at your family Christmas, even if you give it to yourself.


How to Handle the Stress of Christmas – Family Estrangement

For most people, at some time in their lives, Christmas has been about family. There are often good memories about that time. Being part of a group. Feeling loved. Feeling included. And Christmas is always spoken of as a family time.

If you are estranged from family members, Christmas is a time where you are most likely to remember that estrangement. And it hurts.

Family members usually don’t become estranged in a moment. If you are the one who made the choice to remove yourself from those family members, the hurt that lead to that most likely built up over time. And the decision to cut off contact was most likely not made lightly, but made after a lot of thought over an extended period of time. And the estrangement hurts.

If you have been the one a family member has walked out on, there are often the questions about why this happened. Trying to understand. Trying to make sense of it. Feeling hurt.

No matter what has led to you being here, in the lead up to Christmas, remembering family members you know you can’t talk to or see, it hurts.

So how do you deal with it?

Like any loss, estrangement leads to grief. Grief takes time to process. The pain may seem to diminish with time, but it will never go.

Part of the grieving process is expressing your grief. Allowing it to be spoken of and acknowledged. Allowing time for the healing and accepting the scars.

A caring friend may be willing to listen to you. You may choose to visit a counsellor. You may find expressing yourself with art activities is helpful. Movement may help. Writing poetry or journaling can be helpful as well.

Acknowledge the hurt. Don’t try to hide it. What you express hurts less than what you hide.

Reflect on the relationship and find a symbol to express how you grew through that relationship and how you have grown as a result of the end of that relationship.

The symbol can be anything. Clients of mine have chosen a number of symbols:

  • A colourful spinner for the garden;
  • A butterfly picture;
  • A bird bath;
  • Made a collage of pictures out of magazines;
  • Taken photos; and
  • Collected shells from the beach.

They all found the act of reflection, choosing the symbol and being able to see it helped them learn how to fit the estrangement into their lives.

Christmas will hurt. Acknowledge the pain. Find new meaning in the Christmas you are having now. Talk to someone if you need to. Be compassionate to yourself. Be okay to hurt and be okay to enjoy the Christmas you have.


How to handle the stress of Christmas – The Need to be Perfect.

One of the biggest problems in our society is the need to be perfect. On the television there are advertisements and whole programs on that perfect presentation. And if you open a magazine to escape the pressure, there are likely to be articles about the perfect dinner layout and the perfect Christmas menu. Not surprising that many people feel the pressure to be perfect at Christmas. And that is stressful

If this if your stress this Christmas, there are some helpful things you can do to reduce that stress.

The first is to ask yourself what that need for perfection is all about. Are you trying to prove yourself to someone?

The expectations of others can be very difficult, especially when they are imposed on you by an important relative, such as your mother.

Christmas is such an important family time for many and it is easy to get caught up in the pressures that existed in your childhood. Especially when you are surrounded by messages of perfection.

So how do you deal with that?

That depends on how great the need for that relative’s approval is.

Sometimes being aware of that pressure and making a decision not to be affected by it is enough.

For others, brief mindfulness meditations are really helpful.

One such meditation is known as 4-7-8 breathing. To do this, find somewhere where you will not be disturbed. Sit comfortably but upright. Set a timer for five minutes. Closing your eyes will make it easier to focus. Breathe in so that your tummy rises for the count of four. Hold your breath for the count of seven. Then breathe out through pursed lips for the count of eight. While you do this, focus on your breathing and the counting of that breath. Put other thoughts out of your mind. If thoughts creep back, just gently push them away. Focus on this breathing pattern until the five minutes is completed. Practise this several times a day. Three to five is very effective. Most people find this really calming.

If you find the significant relative has more impact on you and is harder to ignore, then it can be helpful to see a counsellor who specialises in treating adults who have had difficulty in childhood. Seeing a counsellor is, of course, a long term solution. In the interim, try the 4-7-8 breathing meditation to get you through this Christmas as stress free as possible.



How to Handle the Stress of Christmas – Being Alone

Christmas is a season full of relationships. Watch the television, read a magazine, go to the movies, look at billboards and they tell you that. Buy this for Mum. Take your family to this restaurant for Christmas lunch. Your children will love this toy. Buy this for your partner. Receive this from that special someone. Sounds wonderful.

But what if you are alone? What do you do if there is no-one to buy you something? How do you celebrate Christmas, or just survive the season, when you are on your own and you don’t want to be?

Some people plan a special day with a lovely ‘just for one’ meal. And they treat themselves to a special present.

Others volunteer to help serve lunch for Homeless People.

Others go to lunches put on by local churches that are for people who are on their own at Christmas.

Some get together with others they know.

Then there is the option of staying at home with a good book, or a movie marathon.

How the day is for you depends on how you choose for it to be.

It is not easy. If it is not your choice, being alone can be painful. Christmas and Birthdays are big reminders of something you may be able to push aside at other times of the year.

If being alone is something that still hurts, then it will be harder this year to accept and live with.

At Christmas time be kind to yourself. Acknowledge you hurt. Acknowledge that it is okay to hurt. Don’t pretend it doesn’t hurt if it does. Be kind you yourself and allow yourself to have sadness. But also allow yourself to have joy if it creeps in.

Plan something special to do at Christmas.

You may like to plan a special outfit to wear. You may put it on and tell that amazing person in the mirror they look fabulous. You may enjoy putting up a tree and decorations. You may put a present for you under the tree. Something you have wanted all year. Something special. Your treat because it is Christmas and you are special. You may choose to go somewhere that has special meaning for you. Whatever you do, make it special for you.

Talk to a counsellor if you need to. And on Christmas Day, remember Lifeline is still manned and you are not inconveniencing the operators if you call.

Remember. You may be alone at Christmas in a world that seems to leave the alone out of the picture, but there are many people out there who are alone at Christmas. You may not see them around but you are one of a group. And you are special. You matter. You are important.

In the rush of family images around Christmas, never forget how much you matter.


How to handle the stress of Christmas – Grief and Loss

Christmas is a time of great busyness. There are presents to buy. Food to purchase and prepare. There are Christmas events to attend. Family visits to prepare for. The list is endless and varied. The decorations and stories say peaceful times. But for the individual the extra busyness can be anything but relaxing.

The emotional impact of Christmas is massive. It is the undercurrent to all the busyness. It is the racing heart. The sadness. The rising panic. The anger. The loneliness.

Life doesn’t stop because it is Christmas. It is likely to impact more at Christmas. There are all the reminders of the hurts you can more easily manage at other times of the year.

When you have lost someone you love through death or estrangement, it can feel harder at Christmas, which traditionally includes family.

So how do you cope with that?

It is important to acknowledge your feelings. Yes you hurt. You may hurt terribly. And you always will hurt. Trying to push the hurt away will only make it have a stronger impact on your life. Be okay to sit with it. Be okay to have your sad times. Be okay to have a Christmas that is different.

For some people, there is a belief that it is wrong to be happy after what has been lost. Do you feel that way? Grief involves a wide range of emotions including happiness. Being happy doesn’t mean you are not hurting. The hurt will always be there. So accept the happiness when it comes. Just as you need to accept the sadness when it comes.

This Christmas may be very different from previous ones. You may not feel as happy. But it doesn’t have to be a horrible Christmas.

  • Jo sets a place for her estranged son at the table and prays someday he will sit at it.
  • Amy cooks the cake her mother used to cook and remembers her.
  • Phil visits the beach his wife loved walking on.
  • Trina lights a Jasmine Candle to remember her murdered daughter.
  • Lorraine places ornaments that represent the new life she has created after the devastation of her divorce.

They all acknowledge the sadness. They all say the first few years were really hard. All of them find talking to a Counsellor is really helpful.

It is possible to survive Christmas when grieving. You may not be as happy as you once were. In time you will find a new way to be. A new way to experience happy moments. A new way to find happiness at Christmas. On that journey you may find visiting a Counsellor helpful.

If you would like to talk, ring 0409396608 for an appointment.