Seven ways to take some of the stress out of Christmas this year

Christmas is gradually creeping closer, and for many of us, so is anxiety! In fact, according to MIND, one in four adults feels social anxiety during the festive period.

For some people this can be the dread of all the social activities they’ll need to endure – from work Christmas dos to carol concerts and school Christmas fetes. For others it can be the prospect of spending time with their extended family under one roof, with the added pressure of everyone having a ‘good time’.

So we thought we’d take some of the biggest worries that many people have at Christmas and suggest ways you can handle it. So here are seven ways to take some of the stress out of Christmas this year.

Trethowans
Trethowans

1) Accept that it’s okay not to like your family

It’s important to remember that you don’t need to like your family. We’re fed the ideal that all families should be happy, and that you should choose, and look forward to spending your holidays with them. But for most families this isn’t the reality.

Families come in all sorts of dysfunctional shapes, sizes and colours, and it’s unreasonable to expect that you’re going to adore being in the company of every single member of yours. So don’t worry if you don’t like, or can’t bear to spend time with, some of your relatives. 

Once we let go of the ideal we believe we should be striving for it takes a significant amount of stress out of spending time with your family. You can accept that you’re all very different people who happen to share DNA and memories. 

And instead of putting pressure on yourself, and expectations on your relatives, of an idyllic, fight-free Christmas you can instead allow the holidays to be what they are. And if someone says or does something that annoys or offends you, just internally roll your eyes and accept that’s what they’re like… then move on. 

2) Play Family Christmas Bingo

This is a little left field, but instead of stressing every time your uncle comes out with what you feel is a bigoted statement, or your brother starts one of his long-winded stories, why not turn it into a game of Family Christmas Bingo?

Here’s how to play: in advance of the holidays, think of all of the things that could go wrong, annoy or offend you, and mentally create a bingo card with them. Then every time something on your card happens, you can mark it off. You could even reward yourself with a prize if you get to a full house.

Family Christmas Bing works because it switches your focus from irritation to amusement, and gives you a sense of control. You’re acknowledging these things will probably happen, and rather than just be left fuming and feeling powerless, you’re turning them into a game, and finding the funny side of them.

If you have an ally in a relative you can enlist them in the game too. Just be careful not to let your family know about it – the hurt and fallout could lead to arguments you weren’t predicting. 

3) Look for the positive

Few people are utterly without redeeming qualities. So rather than getting het up over political or other differences over the festive season, focus instead on your relatives’ good qualities – and even try to bring them to the fore. 

For example, your aunt may have very different views on immigration to you, but she could also be an incredibly funny storyteller. And your sister may be blunt and short tempered, but she’s also the first to offer to help if you’re in trouble.

To help make the time you spend together easier, make a pact with yourself to overlook anything that irritates you about your family, and instead actively look for their good traits. 

And if you notice the conversation veering into dangerous territory actively steer it into safer waters by taking charge of the conversation. So if your aunt starts talking about politics you can quickly ask her to regale you with one of her legendary stories. Or if you see your sister start to get irritated, you can ask her to come and help you with something, or solve a tricky problem. 

It also helps to remember that, just as you find some of your families traits and beliefs difficult to endure, they may find some of yours equally irritating. And by being the one trying to actively keep things positive and bring out the best in everyone else, they’ll hopefully be equally generous to you. 

4) Don’t worry if you can’t afford to spend as much as others

Surely it’s the thought that counts when giving gifts, rather than the amount spent? With this in mind, explain why you chose each gift for your relatives when they open them. If you’re worried a relative may be offended by the value of your gifts, then explain honestly that you have spent what you can afford, but have invested just as much thought and love into your gifts as everyone else.

If anyone still objects then it says more about their poverty of empathy and Christmas spirit than it does about your finances.

5) Don’t let the workload fall on you – make a list

Nothing spoils Christmas quite like festering resentment. So if you’re tired of being left to do it all, take charge in advance. Make a list of all the tasks that need to be done, and the people who can help (and yes children are included). Then assign what you think are the most appropriate tasks to everyone and share the list. 

You don’t need to over explain or apologise, just say that you’d really appreciate everyone’s help to make this Christmas run smoothly, so have made a list – and that you’re looking forward to a fun festive time with them all. 

6) Preempt (and head off) teenage battles

Teenagers love to push boundaries, so be prepared for battles. Identify what boundaries it’s important to enforce, and what you’re happy to move on. So when they ask you for something, you can say no if you need to (with an explanation). But you can also offer them something else to make them feel like they have achieved something, and hopefully head off a festive row or sulk. 

7) Don’t let in-laws outstay their welcome

It’s always easier to tackle problems like this by taking control from the outset. So agree with your partner how long you’d both like them to stay, then get in touch with your in-laws to make arrangements. Say you’re looking forward to seeing them, and ask them if they’re able to stay for however many days you and your partner agreed. 

If they say yes, then you have a firm date for their departure. If they ask to stay longer, you can reply that you regret that’s not possible this year as you have plans. If it makes you feel more confortable you can actually plan something for the day after they go, so you have a genuine reason to enforce it.  

If all else fails and you feel your anxiety rising in the run up to Christmas, Anxiety UK offers support, advice, and information on a range of anxiety, stress and anxiety-based depression conditions. You can call their helpline on 03444 775 774.

Photo by Paige Cody