Xmas stress? What you can and can’t do about the family

We all experience Xmas stress. A cute Spaniel in a Santa suit lies spent next to a wine glass, the day after his Xmas outing.
We all experience Xmas stress

What is Xmas stress?

Xmas is supposed to be a time of joy, goodwill, peace and relaxation, right? That’s a lot of expectations! We might be setting ourselves up for disappointment. Or maybe you already expect the worst? What’s the movie playing in your head about Xmas day? Are you experiencing Xmas stress already?

For some people Xmas may be a lonely or sad time, a stressful or overwhelming time. It may be a time where old family resentments resurface or where you’re feeling stretched to be in too many places or where you’re feeling the loss of a loved one.

So, what happens when we’re stressed? You may already be anticipating some tension about how things might go. When you imagine this, your body reacts with tension. Cortisol and adrenaline may be released into your system, priming you to prepare for action or threat. Some stress is good in short doses but not so good when you feel overloaded or overwhelmed. The bad stress is accompanied by a belief that you can’t cope, which in turn makes things worse and may become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Stress can have negative effects on your physical and mental health, and if it persists it is advisable to see your doctor or a counsellor.

What can I do about the family?

Unfortunately, not much; the family is who they are, a system that operates in its own unique way, probably one that you know too well. Everyone has their roles and responsibilities or unclear roles and lack of responsibilities. They will expect you to operate in the same way you usually do (which may be good or not so good, depending on how you usually act). You can’t change them but you can change yourself.

You are responsible for your actions, your thoughts, and your feelings, though some people would disagree with the latter. So to clarify, I mean we can choose how to feel about something. When we tell ourselves that something must be the way it seems to us, our feelings generally match the way we view things. If we can create a bit more flexibility with the meaning we attach, think of some other things it could mean, and not be troubles by it, then we have more choices in the ways we respond, if we respond at all.

Be aware of your triggers

What triggers you? It might be something that someone does that upsets you, that you may read as a sign of disrespect or of being dismissed. Or it might be something expected of you or something you’ve failed to do. It might be an ‘off’comment that someone makes, or dynamics between other people (but I’d stay out of that). Whatever the other person does or says, you don’t need to react to it in the same way you have before. Release yourself from that habit. If you’re reading someone’s communication as having bad intent, hold that thought as a mind-read, and don’t be troubled by it. Remember that we are the ones that create the meaning of any form of communication we receive.

Stay calm and in control

Process what’s happening around you. Take a moment to be the observer who comments on the action, without judgement or reading things into it. Just notice, simply notice and comment to yourself (not out loud!). Find that calm centre by imagining yourself elsewhere, at your favourite place, where you feel calm and peaceful. Your body will respond. Being in control means containing your reactions and formulating them into responses that fit well with your intention for the event.

Respond rather than react

How do you want to be in the situation? Choose your response. Imagine yourself at the event, with others being the way they usually are, and you being the way you want to be. Remind yourself on the way there how you want to be. Keep in mind that you have no control of how others are.

Enjoy that space!

If you don’t get it 100% right, accept that you’ve learnt something new and keep trying to stay on course, adjusting your responses as necessary to avoid Xmas stress. Heading in the direction you want to go is better than going completely off-track (or off-piste, as my ski friends would say). And that reminds me: watch your alcohol so you can carry out your intentions to the best of your ability. Let yourself learn and reward your efforts in another way. Go and have a great day!

Contact me for further help in changing how your respond to difficult family dynamics. Linda Magson, Sydney Life coach and counsellor.