Self / 15.12.2016

9 strategies for staying calm this Christmas

By Sally Brown
Escape the 'perfect Christmas' trap


Half of us consider Christmas our favourite time of the year, according to a YouGov survey. It’s the time of year when we put real life on hold, pretend to believe in magic, and spend far too much money on celebrating with friends and family.

However, it’s because we care so much about Christmas that we often build up a sense of how it should be – and feel cheated if it doesn’t meet this vision. With such expectations come panic: how do you keep the whole family – in-laws, children and other halves included – happy, while also managing to have a calm and healthy holiday yourself?

The solution is two-fold: managing other people’s expectations and making sure you look after yourself in the process. With the help of two leading psychotherapists, we’ve put together an essential guide to having a calm, healthy festive periods. Here are 9 coping mechanisms to help you out:

1 Take the load off  
If you feel you ‘must’ do certain things (make everything from scratch, host Christmas for the whole family again), ask yourself why. Who are you really doing this for? What would happen if you didn’t do it?

2 Have a Christmas brainstorm
You can’t please everybody, but sometimes we think we know what everyone wants without checking, says psychotherapist Corinne Sweet, co-author of The Mindfulness Journal (Boxtree, £9.99). Get the family together and ask them to write down one thing they’d like to do over Christmas, and one tradition they’d like to drop. You may find everyone would like to eat out on Christmas Day, or set a price limit on gifts.

3 Think about what you really want
In October, ideally, before the annual Christmas frenzy kicks in, and don’t be frightened to change traditions. As your children get older, it’s OK to suggest you all spend the day volunteering at a homeless shelter, says Sweet.

4 Spend time on things you care about – and cut corners on the rest
‘Just because your mother-in-law made her own Christmas cake and cranberry sauce every year, doesn’t mean it’s not OK for you to buy yours from a supermarket,’ says psychotherapist Rachel Shattock Dawson ( ‘Most of us work longer hours than the previous generation, and no matter what else has changed in terms of equality, the bulk of the work still falls to women.’

5 Take a break before the 25th
With the combination of extra work and socialising, we tend to be exhausted by the time we get to Christmas Day. You’re more likely to feel stressed or low if you’re tired, so if you can, get ahead and take a day off to relax before everyone arrives.

6 Prioritise close relationships
If we make this top of the list, the rest should fall into place. Plan lots of activities that involve interaction – get everyone helping with the dinner and clearing up, go for a walk, play a board game or do karaoke.

7 Be the bigger person
Family dynamics and old rivalries can raise their ugly head at family gatherings, but when one person changes the way they react, the whole dynamic between two people is forced to shift. Humour is your best defence, followed by not getting too drunk!

8 Think big picture
When you find your stress levels are rising, remind yourself of what you’re grateful for about your life in general. Try watching a sad movie – it’s a way of making you appreciate the people who love you and the things going well in your life, according to a study by Ohio State University.

9 Have some me-time
Making some time during the day to do something on your own is essential for more introverted types who can feel exhausted by all that Christmas socialising. Go for a brisk walk, have a long bath or find a quiet corner to do a mindfulness exercise.

9 strategies for staying calm this Christmas
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9 strategies for staying calm this Christmas
Half of us consider Christmas our favourite time of the year. But how do you keep the whole family happy, while staying calm? Learn more.
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