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Dr Keith Gaynor was sharing his 10 tips to help you get through Christmas on radio last week and I approached him to ask if I could share these wonderful strategies to make your day go a bit smoother.  

So read away and enjoy.  Hopefully we can all have a stress free Christmas.  Merry Christmas everyone.

10 strategies to get you through Christmas by Dr Keith Gaynor


We love our families and we love Christmas, which makes it tough that it is a time of year when we are most likely to see fights, rows and tension. Sadly, Christmas can be pretty stressful time. From the point the clock goes back there are many people “dreading” Christmas and a lot of others who are hurt and upset at the end of it.

I’d like to offer 10 strategies for survival and enjoyment of the busiest of seasons.

Families have huge history, complex relationships. The eldest vs the youngest; the perfect child vs the scoundrel; mother-in-law vs. daughter-in-law; separated families; families where members don’t talk to each other.  These are all the dynamics of family relationships which are there all year around.

However, Christmas can become a pressure cooker. High expectations, physical exhaustion and a limited number of days all add pressure. We manage these dynamics all year round but stuff them into a three or four day period and it all blows up.

Firstly, it is important to realise, your family isn’t the only one:
Everyone else isn’t going around perfectly happy without an ounce of stress. Everyone on the street has similar family issues and they all play out at Christmas.

Don’t leap in:
The thing about this is, it is easy to predict. It is the same few people, the same few sore spots. Don’t take the bait. This is not the one Christmas that you are going to jump in a settled it all, like Michael Corleone, settling all family business. After one good rant, everyone is not going to turn around and say “god, you were right all along”. If it can be addressed and is important enough to be addressed, it can be addressed in January without the other pressures of Christmas. There are lots of family issues that need to be talked about and worked on: January and the other 10 months of the year are the time to do it. Not Christmas week.

Don’t step on the land mines:
Some relatives may use the holidays to act out family dynamics. They may make comments ask loaded questions or try to open up a can of worms that manage to stay shut the rest of the year. “Why didn’t your cousin get an invite to the wedding?” The answer to this “God, wasn’t that a lovely turkey”.

Watch the alcohol:
Christmas is the time to be merry and we all need to let loose sometimes. But it is exactly when a few drinks are taken, that things get said and the dynamics kick off. Sometimes those things can be difficult to take back. What’s worse, they may be true. But we wouldn’t have said it in that way, in that place, with those people. If we are going to address family issues then context matters, and alcohol impacts on all of that. It can be easy to drink too much during these gatherings. If the tensions are high, then less is more.

Don’t go with your impulses:
This may seem strange but have a think about what you want your Christmas to be: calm, restful, enjoyable. What are your impulses telling you to do? If they are bringing in the direction you want to go great. If they are taking you away from where you want to go, maybe it is best to take a deep breath and make another choice.

Don’t look for the perfect Christmas:
Embrace the imperfection. You don’t need the perfect present, the kids are going to play with the box. You don’t need the perfect dinner, everyone is going to love it anyway and fall asleep after, you don’t need the perfect tree, decorations, mulled wine, Christmas jumper. All anyone wants is you. Fairly calm, fairly normal and able to sit and chat and laugh. Embrace the madness and dump the perfection.

How do I act?
It is amazing how entitled we feel around family, to speak to them anyway we like. We often feel we have the right to “tell it like it is”, or that we are doing someone a favour by letting rip at them. In fact, there is almost no group of people we talk to like our family. We wouldn’t talk to colleagues, strangers, flatmates in the same way. There is a reason for politeness. It is respectful and recognises that other people might have a different perspective to us. That’s true of our family too.

Am I being the child?
We all regress at Christmas. Things we did 30 years ago crop up again. But if there is family tension, it is worth asking. Am I the one being the child? Am I being demanding, self-righteous, not taking other people’s perspectives, being in a strop because Christmas isn’t going my way. We are probably not the only one, but we might be part of the problem.

Break out of Cabin Fever:
Often fights take place because we are spending too much time with each other. 48 hours straight is probably too much! Get out, go for a walk, visit a friend, take a dip in the 40 Foot, mix it up. Then come back to watch Indiana Jones. You’ll be refreshed and everyone else will have had a break from you too.

Keep the big picture in mind:
More than likely these are people that you really love. You may want to strangle one or two of them but you would probably do anything for them. We don’t actually have that many Christmases together. That doesn’t mean we should try to make them perfect. That means we should really try to be grateful for the messy, sloppy, imperfect very human families we have, especially when they are wrapped up in tinsel.

Dr Keith Gaynor is a Senior Clinical Psychologist in the Outpatient Department of St John of God Hospital. He is author of “Protecting Mental Health”.


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All the best,
The Team at Jefferson

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