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Christmas and families don’t always mix well.

Getting along with your family can be tricky at the best of times. Tension and conflict between family members is quite common, especially at this end-of-year holiday period. Around this time of year, many individuals can feel worn out from a stressful year and the added pressure of needing to be here there and everywhere can add fuel to the fire. So what can you do to ensure you have a happier, healthier holiday period this year?

Holiday stress can be caused by a number of things. It is important to understand what it is that gets you down about the holidays.  Do you find the holidays remind you of unpleasant experiences from your past? Is there a reason you’ve been avoiding your family for the other 364 days of the year? Do you find your relatives toxic or unbearable? Sometimes the holidays can be a strong reminder of the undesirable changes we’ve faced, such as a divorce or the loss of a loved one.

Comparisons between how things are now and how they used to be are common around significant dates, especially over the holiday period. It can be all too much to remember the people who aren’t with us on this special day. On the other hand, perhaps being reminded of what hasn’t changed can be the source of stress and upset over the holidays. It can be easy to criticise others or ourselves when we have such strong recollections of how dissatisfyingly similar things were ‘this time last year’. To notice that something we had wished would change hasn’t, can be flattening. It becomes increasingly difficult to deal with any or all of these stressors at a time when we are less likely to be looking after ourselves (eating poorly, drinking more, sleeping less) and feeling rundown after a long year.

For some people, family gatherings can be a great source of stress and anxiety. Pre-existing conflict and tension can be highlighted when everyone gets together. It is common for old sibling rivalries to arise and parents to treat their adult children as small children again. When the family gathers together, people can easily slip into our old family roles. Maybe your older brother becomes the self-involved show-off he was in high school, maybe your younger sister withdraws and seems disinterested, or maybe you act like a rebellious teen. Research suggests that conflict between siblings or within the parent-child relationship should be more expected than unexpected when the family collides.

Although incompatibilities within a family can be common and we all go through periods of conflict, the holiday time can really exacerbate tension. It is important to look after yourself and put some protective practices in place so that you can best enjoy your holiday time. Here are 7 tips:

  1. Be realistic- if you have long-standing history of tension or conflict with someone in your family, don’t expect that miracles will happen just because it’s Christmas. In fact, given everyone is likely to be as stressed and worn out as you are, it may be more realistic to expect the worst.
  2. Drive safely and plan your day wisely- try to avoid long drives or tight schedules that require you to race around. Be realistic about advising your arrival time if you are travelling and allow yourself enough time to get between events.
  3. Put your health first- in the weeks leading up to Christmas make sure you are getting enough sleep, eating healthy and not over-doing the festivities. The pressure to attend every event and please everyone else often overrides the need to look after you.
  4. Practice saying no- if you do not want to do something or you feel burdened by an invitation, practice saying “no thank you”. Like putting your health first, we must practice putting our mental health first, too. No invitation or other person is more important than you are to you! So be kind to yourself- say no to that dinner with your cousins and have a night in, if you need. Listen to yourself.
  5. Be mindful of others- it can be very easy to get caught up in the commotion and tensions that arise when everyone is together. Try to remind yourself that everyone is likely to be stressed too and not to take things too personally. Remember we cannot change or control other people. Sometimes acceptance of others or a situation gives us the biggest relief.
  6. Limit your time with the people you find toxic- if you know you feel distressed when you spend too much time with certain people, limit your availability to them. Don’t be afraid to leave a family lunch early. Tell your family you have somewhere else to be before the event so that you have an early exit plan.
  7. Set up support systems- invite a friend to your family event. If you can’t do this, let a friend know ahead of time that you may need their support on the day of your family’s celebration. Ask the friend to keep their phone with them or organise to meet up afterwards.
  8. See if you can find one thing to appreciate at this time of year and focus on that. Amidst all the conflict and drama that can occur we can also use this time to reflect on the things we are grateful for. See if you can find just one small thing that can make you smile through the difficult times.

Of course some families have their own ways of coping or have already worked out how to enjoy the xmas holiday period for others its not their time of the year to celebrate. Whatever your situation, The Three Seas Team wish you seasons greetings and hope that you find some joy and time to relax over the next month or so and that your find some positive meaning in the time you spend with your family.