Christmas is an opportunity to spend time with your extended family celebrating the festive period, or is it?
There is increasing evidence that demonstrates that negative family relationships can cause stress, impact mental health and even cause physical symptoms.
According to Relate 68% of people who were surveyed are likely to row over the Christmas holidays, with 39% citing Christmas Day as the mostly likely time to have a bust-up. They also report receiving a 24% increase in calls after Christmas due to family tensions coming to a head over the Christmas holidays. For those who already experiencing stress or tensions associated with pregnancy or having a new baby, the added concern of difficult family relationships can make Christmas Day a challenging time.
Here are 4 tips that could help you plan ahead and prevent difficult family tensions from spoiling your Christmas:
1. Reach out
If you are estranged from a family member or have a difficult relationship, reach out and try to repair the rift. Taking some action, however small, can help us feel we have some control or power in an upsetting situation. Be the one to reach out – it takes courage to do this, but it might make all the difference. Remember though, you have no control over how the other person responds, you can only do your best to put things right. If they do not respond how you had hoped, then console yourself that you have done what you can and it is no longer your responsibility.
When someone has hurt or disappointed you it is natural to hold onto to those feelings, which overtime turn into resentments. The truth is though that you’re actually causing yourself more pain by holding on to the anger and letting the person who hurt you still affect your life. According to Dr. Steven Standiford, Chief of Surgery at the Cancer Treatment Centres of America, refusing to forgive makes people sick and keeps them sick. Unforgiveness can lead to chronic anxiety which results in the excess adrenaline and cortisol produce depleting the production of natural killer cells which are your body’s weapons against disease. Forgiving (or letting go) can disconnected you from the effect of unforgiveness which, according to a study in The Journal of Behaviour Medicine can actually mean you live longer!
Download a summary article below on Forgiveness.
If you know that there’s likely to be conflict within your family, spending extended time together over Christmas is probably not realistic. See if you can break up your time together with another activity (such as a walk) or plan shorter visits to alleviate the pressure. Put healthy boundaries in place, it might be Christmas but that does not mean you need to tolerate destructive or toxic behaviour. Be assertive, make it clear what you will and won’t accept and make a plan of how to look after yourself if this does happen. If an argument breaks out and it is only going to get worse, take yourself out of the situation as soon as you can and practice some self-care to bring your stress levels down. Also we are all different and not everyone loves playing party games together all the time at Christmas! Those of us with a more introverted nature need our own space – if you’re organising family Christmas try to be sensitive to each person’s needs and styles.
Accept that you cannot change others but you can change how you respond and relate, and hopefully change old patterns. Try to accept people as they are with compassion. Often there’s a big age difference in family gatherings and the views of the older generation might not sit well with those younger – and vice versa! Alcohol can fuel the start of big family arguments – so be prepared that people may have different views about all sorts of things and consider the wisest way to respond.
Even if this doesn’t happen, thinking about things differently and acting differently can prevent family fallouts from having a harmful effect on you. The words of the serenity prayer as used by Alcoholics Anonymous seem appropriate here:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Being able to sort out the things you can change and letting go of the things you can’t is a real life skill, especially if you suffer from anxiety – see the download below on some tips on how to do this.
And remember that you’re not alone if you’re experiencing estrangement or feeling challenged by a family relationships this Christmas time. If you have a difficult time and want help then do consider contacting our confidential counselling service.