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6 Ways to Deal With Stress at Christmas – Tips for Families

dealing with christmas stressOne of the best ways to deal with stress at Christmas is to look at your family with different, wiser, more compassionate eyes. That’s what these tips for families are all about – and they don’t just apply to the Christmas holidays!

Before the tips, a quip:

“Family quarrels are bitter things. They don’t go by any rules. They’re not like aches or wounds; they’re more like splits in the skin that won’t heal because there’s not enough material.” ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Who are the splinters under your skin? One of the best ways to cope with those toxic relatives is to accept them for who they are. Stop wishing they were different. They are who they are, and so are you.

One of my favorite ways to deal with stress at Christmas is to watch movies like Parenthood! It’s one of my favorite movies about families because it describes the best and worst parts of family life. It’s bittersweet, just like real life.

Here are a few ways to cope with dysfunctional relatives at Christmas…

6 Ways to Deal With Stress at Christmas – Tips for Families

Figure out what you expect from your family at Christmas

Before the big family Christmas get together, make a list of your expectations. Dig deep: write down five or ten expectations you have of your family, Christmas Day, and yourself. What do you want to happen? What don’t you want to happen?

For instance, I want to have meaningful, real conversations with my family members about our lives, goals, dreams, and disappointments. I want to know them better, to really connect with them (it rarely happens). And I want them to be less negative, and more optimistic and accepting. To deal with my stress at Christmas, I need to realize that my expectations are setting me up for disappointment.

Let go of unrealistic expectations

Some of your expectations are probably reasonable, and some probably aren’t. For instance, it’s reasonable for me to expect to have a deep, meaningful conversation with at least one family member at Christmas! But it’s not realistic for me to expect them all to suddenly become optimistic, bubbling-over-with-joy peeps. Maybe you expect your family not to fight at Christmas…and maybe every year they do. Maybe you expect civility, not abuse.

Whatever your expectations, look at them as objectively as possible. Are you being realistic? Instead of holding on to unrealistic expectations, set new expectations that are based in reality. Sometimes dealing with stress at Christmas is about tweaking your own attitude.

Don’t expect your family members to change

There’s no point trying to get your relatives to see your perspective – especially if you’ve been having the same fights every Christmas! They are who they are. You are who you are. Neither of you is likely to make huge changes in your personality or life. Sometimes the root of chronic family problems is the wish that things were different.

Instead of yearning for what isn’t, focus on accepting and dealing with your relatives the way are they right now.

Step away from the table

My husband and I spend Christmas at his parents’ house every year. I’ve never noticed any major family fights or tensions – but there is a tendency towards negativity, cynicism, and complaining. Maybe a few judgments, here and there.

The most effective way for me to deal with stress at Christmas is to walk away. There are plenty of rooms in the house; I can go anywhere I please! Maybe your relatives can’t avoid family fights — but you can.

Focus on what you can control

You can control your thoughts, your words, and the amount of time you spend with your family. Change the things you have control over, such as long you spend talking to a certain relative. Even knowing you have control over the littlest things can make a difference! Your family problems may never change, but you can empower yourself in different ways.

For instance, if you have an alcoholic sibling, you can join an Al-Anon support group or call a hotline if things are particularly bad. Family fights and toxic relatives are stressful at Christmas – there’s no doubt about it – but you can reduce the stress by controlling your own attitude and actions.

Put yourself in your family members’ shoes

In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey encourages us to seek first to understand, then to be understood. I know how hard this is when you have difficult parents or toxic family members! My father left when I was three years old, and never called or wrote. I’ve forgiven him – and it really helped to put myself in his shoes and see his actions from his perspective (which he explained to me after I caught up with him, as an adult). When I see his behavior through his eyes, I see him as a human being, a man who made mistakes and did the best he could.

Don’t stop here! Read How to Cope With Difficult Parents.

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3 thoughts on “6 Ways to Deal With Stress at Christmas – Tips for Families”

  1. I have a 14 year old daughter that went to live with her Dad this past year. He lives 1000 miles away in another state. In my opinion she was manipulated, cohursted to live with him. Before her move he would constantly complain about money and has had 2 DUI’S. I raised my daughter on my own for 13 years. She and I had a good relationship until she spend 6 weeks with her father the summer of 2009. He didn’t watch over her and let her do what she wanted. He asked if she could live with him for 1 year and I said no. When she got home she was caught smoking, cutting then later in the year expelled from middle school for have ecstasy. Her father took me to court and the court assigned a counsel to my daughter and they said she wants to live with her Dad. I was devistated and very angry with her father for doing this to her. She recently was expelled again while living with him. She called me last weekend drunk and expressed how unhappy she was and wanted to come back to live with me but didn’t want to hurt her Dad. I fly out Monday to spend time with her, in hopes he will not keep her from me. I will attend her court meetings, meet with her counselor, that I’m very disappointed with and her tutor. She again has to be home schooled and is alone cause her Dad works on weekends, drinks and I think he’s gambling. I also pay him child support, court ordered. He called recently and left a message stating they are broke and need money. He makes more money than I do and gets $420 a month from me. She is not getting her needs met by him. I want her out of his care. I feel I need to prove that he drinks, which he’s not suppose to 12 hours prior to being around her. I call her every weekend and she’s with friends and not spending quality time with her Dad. I want to do all the right things to get her back. I’m taking a leave from work to just be there and available to her if she wants me. Any other suggestions? I’m so afraid she will stay just to please and take care of him. He’s 51 years old, never married, doesn’t cook, goes to his mothers for meals, his Dad is a daily drinker. I can’t stand the thought of her becoming an addict. Please help as I leave Monday for her arraignment. I pray, go to church every Sunday and have a very close family that I’m sure she misses. Thank you.

  2. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Dear Mrs Anne Carty,

    I’m sorry to hear that you’re not as close to your sons as you would like. Our families can really give us the best and worst of times, can’t they?

    While you can’t force them to change or even talk to you if they don’t want to, you can gain some insight into your own personality and attitude. I have no idea what’s going on in your relationships that are causing these family problems — the answer lies somewhere inside you. And, I can’t dig out the answer over the internet!

    I encourage you to talk to a counselor. Even if you don’t figure out the cause of your sons’ distance from you, you might gain an objective perspective, a sense of peace, and some understanding of your own personality.

    Also – have your sons ever asked you to change your behavior or treat them differently? Do you think there’s something in there that might help shed light on their treatment of you?


  3. Mrs. Anne Carty

    My younger son lives 275 miles from me. My husband passed away in 2004. During his life and until this day I am not invited to my son’s house for Christmas and once in awhile for Thanksgiving. My daughter-in-law has made known in words that she does not want my older son to visit or any of his relatives. Incidentally, my older son is a Medical Doctor who also has no axe to grind with her. Her parents come to all graduations as well as other frequent visit. They have millions and I have a modest estate but give them cars and have given them (my son) $10,000 per year since he has two daughters in college-I quit finally when they show me no respect. There is more and more. Finally yesterday morning my son told me he did not want to hear from me ever. I have dinner parties and send meals to the sick and am a fiber artist. I have a good sense of humor but if you can unravel the above and put me on a path so that I will stop crying, I will appreciate it.