Christmas get-togethers, for most people, are meant to be an occasion for celebration and happiness with family (remember, not everyone has a close relationship with their relatives). However, it can also be a time of stress and worry.
Check out the first part of this article: 5 Christmas survival tips
We’ve mentioned previously how there are a number of reasons why Christmas with the in-laws can be tough for some. For example, it can be a time where people who normally don’t spend time together are suddenly lumped into a room for a day. The weather is usually hot, people are tired, and there’s often grog involved. Tempers can flare and old conflicts and rivalries might rise to the surface. It can all make for a stressful day.
Christmas with the in-laws
We recommend the above article because it has some handy advice on how to stay cool with the in-laws on Christmas (and we’re not talking about the air con).
If you sense tensions are running high, or if you realise someone (or even you) is getting tired or cranky, here are five more tips for keeping it together.
“Alcohol lowers your inhibitions. The more you consume, the more it affects your judgement or sense of restraint.”
1) Watch your grog
Grog is widely accepted as a part of Australian culture. A small amount, as you probably know, tends to make people feel good, socially relaxed or confident. More grog, however, can lead you to say or do things that you wouldn’t normally. In some cases, it can contribute to violence. For example, alcohol is closely linked to family violence.
Alcohol lowers your inhibitions. The more you consume, the more it affects your judgement or sense of restraint. It explains why drunk people are more likely to mouth off or do things that they later regret.
You might be tempted to drink more because you think it will make it easier to deal with other people. In the short-term, drinking might feel like it helps take off the edge. However, in the long term it probably won’t make the situation feel less tense, especially on a long and tiring day.
Drinking usually doesn’t make the cause of the stress go away. Rather, it’s more of a short-term distraction. If you’re feeling frustrated, annoyed or angry, more grog will most likely make those feelings worse. There’s a higher chance that the result will be an argument or disagreement.
One way to keep a cool head on Christmas is to simply watch your grog. Either skip the booze altogether (you’ll probably have more energy during the day), go for the light stuff, or switch every second drink to something non-alcoholic.
2) It’s ok to chill
For some people, the ideal Christmas Day is spent talking, socialising and enjoying time with family. For others, it’s still about family, but they prefer it to be more about relaxing, chilling out and a quiet time.
Everyone eventually needs a bit of downtime and different people will start to feel the need to ‘switch off’ at different times. You might be the kind of person who can talk all day, or you might need to take a step back after a short while.
It is completely normal to feel like you just need to chill. After a full day of family, dogs, babies and being polite to relatives, you may very well feel you need to ‘get away’ for a bit.
Go for a lie-down if you can. Sit in the backyard with a book or in a corner on your phone. Watch a movie with the kids. Take the dog for a walk. Play on the console.
It’s ok to chill on your own. Even after just a little bit of down time, you will be pleased to realise how much better you’re able to deal with a frustration that, earlier in the day, was stressing you out.
“Christmas can be intense and exhausting. That’s when tensions can flare up. When that happens, it’s usually unexpected.”
3) Don’t expect everything to go perfectly
The previous article explains how the complications of family relationships can sometimes float to the surface. One reason for this is that a large part of the celebration is based around family members spending a whole day together, even though they might not see each other very often.
Christmas can be intense and exhausting. That’s when tensions can flare up. When that happens, it’s usually unexpected. Some triggers might include:
- Uninvited comments or advice about how to raise children.
- Children or younger relatives who get overly emotional or start drama.
- Hurtful, patronising or cruel comments about your appearance, your weight or your choice of wardrobe.
- Unwanted questions about when you’re getting married or moving in together.
- Behaviour that is based on the need to be controlling.
- Subtle blaming, being overly critical or dismissive, or victim-playing.
Much as you might want to, you probably can’t shut down the person who made the unwelcome comment. And if you did react angrily, that’s not going to make Christmas any better.
One way to deal with it is to actively imagine different situations in your mind before they happen. For example, if you think mum’s going to comment about your weight, or if you know your uncle is going to drink too much, imagine beforehand what it would be like for you to actually be in that situation. Instead of raging about it, imagine how you would realistically respond. Ideally, you’re calm and in control of your emotions.
This is not a free pass to get stressed or anxious. Rather, you’re simply preparing yourself to get better at dealing with what could be a tough situation (this technique is a form of mindfulness called “negative visualisation”).
If the situation does happen, you’ll be ready for it and it (hopefully) won’t feel as upsetting. If it doesn’t, then you avoided a distressing situation altogether.
4) Remind yourself to be thankful for the good things
The saying “one person’s trash is another’s treasure” isn’t just about rubbish left on the nature strip. In many ways, it’s a reflection on life. One person might be happy with their lot even though they’re not particularly wealthy, while another might feel unhappy despite having a privileged background.
When we strip things down to their basics, the difference usually comes down to perspective. It’s how we see things and believe them to be, not how they actually are, that very often has a lot to do with our sense of happiness.
The same thinking can be applied for a Christmas family get-together. You don’t have to be thankful to people who behave badly. However, focusing on the good things instead of the frustrations could help you feel less distressed.
Is there yummy food? Are there relatives who look forward to seeing you? Is there a tradition that you love? Are there moments where you truly feel together as a family?
If you are currently doing one of these things, then focus on how enjoyable that is. Other people might still act up or behave badly, but actively focussing on the good things can help lighten the stress by changing your perspective.
5) It may actually be more stressful for them (but they’re not showing it)
Despite being among your family, you might still feel like an outsider, or you may be feeling lonely or isolated. It could be that you’re an in-law or perhaps you’re the only person your age who doesn’t (or does) have kids. Or someone just can’t help themselves and they’re behaving in a way that’s quite upsetting.
It’s stressful, but have you considered that it might be just as stressful — or even more so — for some of the other family members?
Why hasn’t the host talked to you all day? She’s probably been running off her feet since early morning, labouring in a hot kitchen while showing love to the grandchildren and welcoming everyone and making sure the dog gets its medication. For all you know, she could be highly stressed, trying to please everyone — but she’s just not showing it.
The same often goes for dramas and temper flare-ups. Just because your family members don’t react to bad behaviour, doesn’t mean they don’t know what’s going on. Nor does it mean they’re not upset by it.
You don’t know what thoughts are in someone’s head. However, simply knowing that other people might also be feeling the strain can give you a better perspective, and with it, the ability to better deal with stress.
Need help? You can find support services in northern Queensland or complete a self-administered K10 test for depression and anxiety. You can also join the online mental health forum to talk with like-minded people.