Tis the Season to be Jolly? Surviving family stress at Christmas

For many people, Christmas can be a very stressful time of year. It’s a time when families come together and, when some people just don’t get along, the festive season can be fraught as tensions rise. Relationships can feel strained under the pressure: it is no surprise that divorce rates tend to peak at this time of year. Combined with the fact that you are likely to be rushing around trying to buy presents and get ready for Christmas Day, stress levels can reach an all-time high. So, how do you survive the festive period? We provide some helpful points to consider below:

Communication is key

Most family issues tend to occur due to communication breakdowns. This is one of the most common reasons for family fallouts. Breakdowns in communication usually happen when people’s expectations are not met. We all communicate differently, and in a family network, you will have some family members that get on better with others. This is perfectly natural – we cannot choose our family, but we can choose how we react to one another. Communication problems can also affect our personal relationships at this time of year: increased stress levels can place a huge burden on marriages and long-term partnerships. Whether it’s a relative or a spouse, if someone acts in a way which is not how you would expect, then pause for a moment before you respond. Ask the person calmly why they are acting in that way – gently explain that you are confused by their response or actions. By checking in with family members who are responding differently to you in certain situations, you will probably find there is no malice on their part; they are just simply responding in their own way. However, if you are suffering due to a person’s bad behaviour, it may be worthwhile discussing your problem with an objective counsellor or therapist, who will help you to deal with the situation.

Think before you judge

If you feel that someone is acting negatively towards you or another, consider the reasons why they are behaving in that way. Most of us have our own trials and tribulations in life that will affect the way we respond to certain situations. For example – you may have an older family member who seems set in their ways and unable to compromise. Have you checked in lately and asked them how they are feeling? Christmas may be a sad time of year for older people if they are remembering loved ones who have passed away, especially if they have lost their husband or wife. Always reserve judgement and stay patient with family members displaying negative emotions or behaviours. Instead of responding in anger, try to be sensitive – show them that you care. If you do have family members or partners experiencing sadness and depression, try recommending that they talk to a counsellor.

Don’t expect people to know how you are feeling

Returning to the subject of meeting people’s expectations, remember that others may not know how to meet your own expectations. If you are feeling low, depressed or stressed, you may try to keep this to yourself while you busy yourself with all the tasks needed to prepare for the forthcoming festivities. However, keeping everything bubbling below the surface can prove disastrous – it could take just one small thing to tip you over the edge. Before you know it, a row may ensue. Unfortunately, it is very common for tensions to boil away until Christmas Day and, once everything is in full swing, people tend to let go and arguments occur. This can be very confusing for your nearest and dearest, especially if the situation didn’t seem to merit such a reaction. It is far better to keep your spouse or family up to date with the pressure you are feeling instead of exploding like a volcano! If you are struggling to cope with your feelings, try talking to a counsellor or therapist – they will have only your interests at heart and they won’t judge you.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Sometimes tensions are caused by the pressure of creating the perfect Christmas Day, trying to please close family members, as well as the in-laws. Such pressures tend to fall more on women, who may feel unsupported by their spouse. It is common for many women to be tasked with buying all the presents for both sides of the family. If a person does not feel supported by their partner throughout the year, Christmas can shine a spotlight on any relationship cracks. Instead of everything coming to a head at a time when you should be able to relax, strike up a conversation earlier in the year – talk to your partner, husband or wife about how you are feeling. Explain that you find the festive season particularly stressful and ask them if they can help you in any way. They may come up with simple ideas or offer to take on some of the burden. Often, we assume that others won’t help, but in fact, most of the time it is simply because they are not aware of how you are feeling. However, if you discuss your feelings and these are met with disinterest or an unsupportive attitude, then it might be time to have a conversation with a therapist about your concerns.

To conclude, despite Christmas being a very stressful time of year for some couples and families, usually, a positive way forward can be found. At CWI, we provide counselling and therapy in a range of ways including face to face, telephone and online using Skype, as we understand how busy the run-up to Christmas can be.

If you’re worried about Christmas and need support to help you here are some helpful points to help Christmas Stress through the festive season, then please get in touch. At CWI, we provide a range of therapy and counselling sessions to help people deal with difficult issues including relationship breakdowns.