Ho! Ho! No. What to do when festive family get-togethers send you crackers.

If you believe the ads on TV, the festive season is all about coming together with family to clink glasses and laugh hysterically over the lame jokes in your Christmas crackers. In reality, spending time with our extended family can send us crackers.

Often family get-togethers leave people feeling disappointed, stressed, resentful or offended. There could be a drunk uncle who makes sexist jokes, a sister-in-law who re-gifts the present you gave her last Christmas (awkward!) and grandparents who favour one set of grandkids over the other. As expectations are not met, it can be a time when interactions between family members trigger unhealthy emotional responses souring what should be a joyous occasion.

Do any of these situations sound familiar?

  • You think your in-laws are being rude.
  • You feel ignored or on the outer.
  • You feel unsupported by your partner.
  • You feel your efforts are unappreciated.
  • You sense favouritism towards certain family members.

Being emotionally vulnerable during this time of the year can be exhausting, especially when you’re meant to be recuperating from what has no doubt been a busy year. While it seems that others breeze through life, it’s possible you feel stuck overanalysing situations which can result in undue stress.

Let’s try and make your holiday season a bit easier to manage and work towards taking some personal control over how you feel.

Here are my top three tips for those dreading their impending family get-together/s.

  1. Calm down with a bit of self talk.

Try this whenever you feel annoyed, upset or irritated. Challenge yourself when you feel an emotional reaction coming on by asking yourself – Are my thoughts reasonable? Or is it just convenient for me to be annoyed because I am not enjoying myself?

  1. Don’t read too much into things.

Make sure you don’t overanalyse things to the point where you may come to an incorrect conclusion. For example, if people are preparing food in the kitchen and are having a hushed chat, don’t automatically assume they are talking about you. They’re probably deciding what to buy grandpa for his 90th or whether to put cranberries in the stuffing. Take a breath and walk away.

  1. Make it easy for people to engage with you.

It is thought that communication is 7 percent verbal and 93 percent non-verbal. The non-verbal component is made up of body language (55 percent) and tone of voice (38 percent). With this in mind, think of ways you can project yourself in a more confident and open way. It’ll make you more approachable and allow you to connect with your family and engage in free-flowing conversations. Sometimes the simple things like a smile, a hug or maintaining eye contact can transform the mood of the day.

My not-so-festive Christmas story:

Some years ago when I was six months pregnant I went to my in-laws for Christmas lunch. My mother-in-law was a great cook and boy was I looking forward to lunch with all the trimmings. Perhaps it was low blood sugar or those pesky pregnancy hormones, but by the time it got to 2pm and we hadn’t had lunch, I was hangry! You can imagine my irritation when my in-laws announced that we would be waiting until my brother-in-law arrived to have lunch. By 6pm, he still hadn’t arrived and lunch had turned into dinner. Turns out my brother-in-law spent a romantic afternoon with his girlfriend but told his mother he was working. Needless to say, I was furious and I let everyone know it!

Being a lot more patient and assertive now, I probably would not act as I did on that day. Seeing it from my mother-in-law’s perspective, she wanted all her family to be sitting around the Christmas table together. I just wanted to eat! What could I have done differently? Rather than having a sour look on my face and giving everyone the silent treatment, I could have quietly made myself a sandwich and accepted it.

I know how hard it can be to challenge your way or thinking and silence your negative internal dialogue. If you are already feeling anxious about your impending family get together and you want to take control of your emotions and responses, I would love to help you develop better coping strategies. My passion is helping others to discover their best selves and thrive at work and at home. If you think I could help you, let’s chat.

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