The pressures at the end of the year can be overwhelming and can lead to increased stress, heightened emotions and lots of potential for relationship conflicts over the festive period. And then there’s that ONE DAY where you feel you need to get everything right. Or you are dreading the repetition of last year’s tensions and disappointments.

You might be facing one of several difficult scenarios this Christmas. Here’s some tips to stay the course and avoid Xmas emotional exhaustion and unnecessary headaches and heartaches.

# 1.   Tips for managing a difficult family

Tip 1. Remember your favourite Xmas movies always have some ridiculous conflict scenario that makes you laugh out loud! Concentrating on what has gone wrong in the past or will possibly go wrong at lunch next week will stop you seeing opportunities to improve your relationships. Dark humour can be a great asset.

Tip 2. The ‘Help Me Out’ plea! Plan ahead of time your ‘HELP’ signal, such as a raised fingered, key word or some agreed gesture. Make a deal with your partner or another relative that this signal means “Come over and join me”, “Interrupt a difficult conversation” or “Back me up, I need you now”.

Tip 3. Get out of Jail Free Card! Have a clear signal that you are getting near to exit time well before it becomes an excruciating wait. 30-minutes advance warning to exit is much easier to navigate seamlessly than a 15-minute warning or ‘WE-HAVE-TO-GO-NOW!’ glare. Agree ahead of time on what you will do to help each other exit gracefully.

Tip 4. Have your own little mantra on repeat mode. ‘Other people’s problems are not my problems!’ Don’t take other people’s repetitive complaints or recurrent issues on board. Leave these outside on the footpath before your trip home. Decide you are not going to take anyone’s bad mood or behaviour home with you.

Tip 5. Drop your past resentments, even if others want to indulge in theirs. Recognise sulking relatives are stuck with suffering. It might be hard to feel empathy for people who can’t let go of past hurts – but defiantly choose to refuse to join in their misery!


# 2.  Tips for managing family expectations

Tip 1. Let family members know what you can realistically take on. Know your own limitations and pressures and don’t over-explain why you can’t do so-and-so. Overstretching yourself will not be fun for you or anyone else. Let others manage what you can’t.

Tip 2. Polish up your sense of humour. Predict the silliness, strange habits and the weird ways of your relatives. ? A few (dark) jokes beforehand may be a better way to manage things than a pre-arrival drink or two! Be amused not offended. It’s way better than being shocked or outraged.

Tip 3. Remember that having fun is better than perfection! The best stories will come from memories about mistakes, forgetfulness and something going wrong. It is important to keep perspective and acknowledge that Christmas can be a difficult time. Don’t expect to have it all together and that it will be perfect. Enjoy the imperfections.

Tip 4. Be present and be gentle with yourself and others, even if your preference is not to go to the function. Don’t use distraction or withdrawal as strategies to ‘zone out’; you will feel exhausted afterwards. Try to find observe others with a little curiosity rather than resentment during the day.

Tip 5. Christmas only comes once a year, so keep the day in perspective. Plan to be respectful, stay as long as you can, and leave with pride when you need to.


# 3.   Tips for separated or blended families

Tip 1. It doesn’t have to all happen on Christmas Day!  Make sure you arrange celebrations so that children can spend quality time with both parents or with multiple family arrangements. Remember that children will remember, and learn from, cooperative parenting but will feel burdened by warring parents.

Tip 2. Accept it will never be perfect. Try to make peace with your present situation. Rather than lamenting about the past or worrying about the future, practice appreciating all the small moments of fun or good humour and share your younger children’s excitement.

Tip 3. Create new traditions that suit you and your changed family. Put your collective minds and humours together and jointly make up new ways of enjoying each other’s company. Let go of old rituals and traditions you can’t now retain.

Tip 4. Choose your words wisely and take responsibility. Manage your own emotions, like the adult you are. Say to your children, “I am looking forward to seeing you” rather than, “I miss you so much.”

Tip 5. Encourage kids to feel free to have lots of fun. It is not their responsibility to have to listen to or worry about adult issues, event management or personality conflicts. Make traveling between locations fun and an adventure. Put a blanket ban on negative thoughts and conversations and push yourself to find a little humour in every frustration. No grumbles in the car after the event that they will overhear.

# 4.   Tips for dealing with grief and aloneness

Tip 1. Give yourself permission to grieve. It’s OK for Christmas to be a quiet and reflective time if that is what you need. Honour your time for reflection, sadness and remembering the importance of your relationship with the person you have lost.

Tip 2. Reconnect with your memories. Do something that you used to do together, like revisiting a favourite spot or a shared ritual you both enjoyed. Perhaps write a message, poem or letter to that person. Express your feelings and thoughts.

Tip 3. Embrace solitude. Take a long walk on the beach, the hills or in another lovely place. Be filled with nature rather than too much food! Enjoy silence and contemplation and ‘talk’ with your loved one.

Tip 4. Don’t be shy. Ask to be a ‘Christmas orphan’ at a friend’s gathering. Join in and meet new people at a local group’s gathering for people who do not have family or friends around to celebrate Christmas with. Volunteer to help serve Christmas Day lunch with a charitable organisation.

Tip 5. Plan a special treat for yourself. Indulge in sleeping in. Eat chocolate for breakfast and have a long bath. Make a list of things you are thankful for and all the positive things in your life. Take a picnic brunch at a beautiful spot. Talk with the passers-by and perhaps make friends with a stranger. Garden all day long and have a well-deserved gin and tonic and sense of satisfaction.

Follow and stay in touch with Elizabeth on Facebook or Instagram