Happy Christmas (War is Over)Or is it?

Christmas is usually the time we bring family together to celebrate and share the love. Why is it that when the festive season is supposed to be the most magical and loving period can instead evolve into the most stressful, and cause more harm than good to our relationships?

For a 24 – 48 hour period, we hope to either see or speak to those nearest and dearest to us as we house-hop from one family to the other or even attempt to bring everyone together in the one house... But even the best intentions can go pear shaped….

Research shows that the festive season is within the top 6 most stressful times of the year, with some even calling it out as THE most stressful time of the year. The perfect meal, presents, decorations, atmosphere, music, weather, guests/visitors, pictures, posts…. where does it stop? The pressure to have a perfect ‘Hollywood movie’ Christmas not only contributes to financial stress but also to our mental health stress.


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With our stress at an increased level and interactions that might feel more of an obligation than enjoyment, we spend anywhere from hours to weeks with our family or close friends during the festive season and quite often anything from petty disagreements to violent episodes can occur- “What do you mean, my Christmas Pudding isn’t as good as Auntie Linda’s?’

'Quite often anything from petty disagreements to violent episodes can occur- “What do you mean, my Christmas Pudding isn’t as good as Auntie Linda’s?'

Is it any wonder? Consider these recent statistics- the average Australian child spends only 2.6 hours per weekday and 5.4 hours per weekend day with their immediate family, which decreases dramatically as they get older. Contact with extended family is even lower and varies with only 5 – 28% of people having daily contact.

Being in close proximity, for longer than we are used to impacts our independence and our ability to do what we want our
own way. Most people have created their own traditions or simply have a preferred way that they like to spend Xmas. These traditions or choices are based on our underlying beliefs and values and when others don’t have the same approach, this questions and challenges our core beliefs and values.

When the Christmas ‘Trifecta’ of seasonal stress, challenged beliefs and one too many Mint Bailey’s are combined, what started with the best intentions can end with a Xmas to remember for all of the wrong reasons.

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Humans don’t really like being wrong or even the idea of potentially being wrong. If someone else is telling us that the way they celebrate Xmas is the best way to do it, our subconscious mind can interpret this to mean that our way is the wrong way. This feeling can then trigger an emotional reaction and change of mindset. It might result in a disagreement or causing us to shutdown or block out any potential enjoyment or fun.

Then add alcohol into the mix. When the Christmas ‘Trifecta’ of seasonal stress, challenged beliefs and one too many Mint Bailey’s are combined, what started with the best intentions can end with a Xmas to remember for all of the wrong reasons.

So how do we keep our emotions in check and make the time with our nearest and dearest an enjoyable one?

Here are 5 tips to keeping this Christmas merry:

  • Schedule some time apart- If you plan to spend more than 5 hours together, consider having some time to yourself. Whether it is time in another room, a walk outside or if it is an extended stay, an outing to yourself.
  • Decide prior to Christmas- Have a discussion prior to Xmas about the planned approach, how it will work, the food and present situation. Reach a consensus well before any celebrations commence.
  • An E.I. opinion- Always be comfortable to be you and have an opinion but also be smart enough to listen and learn from others opinions. A conversation doesn’t require someone to be right and someone to be wrong. Listen and appreciate others thoughts.
  • It’s not about me, it’s about We/Us- Our minds naturally think of ourselves first and what’s in it for us as an individual. Even when we are doing something for someone else, it is how it makes us feel that drives our behaviour. It’s about challenging our mindset and remembering the purpose of coming together is about everyone. Empathy is a fantastic skill at this time of year.
  • Be smart with alcohol consumption - We know that alcohol decreases our brain activity. It actually allows our subconscious and emotional mind to take control with less of our prefrontal cortex helping to balance it out. We often refer to this as ‘losing our filter’. Remember to hydrate, pace, eat and be responsible/appropriate. Especially in the Australian summer heat.

While it can feel like we don’t have a choice where we spend our Xmas day, we always have a choice. We make that choice based on our priorities and the possible consequences. At Xmas, that choice is usually based on how other people will feel by us simply being present. Spend more time this Xmas being really present rather than just giving presents.

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