How to Ease Family Stress Around the Christmas Holidays

As Christmas and New Year’s edge ever closer, you may feel the holiday stress mounting. Family, especially, can prove challenging during the festive season and, this year, in particular, tensions are already at boiling point for many thanks to COVID-19 lockdowns and the stress of not being able to see each other or visit our loved ones.

Here are a few reasons our family festivities can turn from fun to fretful and how to keep stressful feelings at bay.

Stop scolding, and remember the “why”

If you find yourself getting a lot more ‘shouty’ with the kids, it’s worth remembering that their misbehaviour can often be attributed to overdoing it. Later bedtimes, delaying meals and too many treats affect kids’ ability to stay calm, focus, and remember the rules.

If you feel ready to shout or scold, first consider the situation. Were the kids up late gaming again last night? Has there been too much chocolate and not enough spinach lately? Are they struggling with anxiety at school?

It’s important to set children straight when it comes to behaviour, but at the same time, recognize the source of the problem. This way, you’ll be less likely to lose your own temper, and more likely to know when it’s time to get family life on an even keel again.

Grownups, too, can behave badly as a result of overdoing it

Too many toddies can turn into a tiff, and the booze does tend to flow at this time of year. It goes without saying that there should be an appointed designated driver or call to Uber if you’re going to be enjoying a few cocktails while out and about this holiday season. (Although, most drinking is being done at home these days thanks to pub curfews and pandemic restrictions.)

But even if you’re not driving, going from buzzed to blitzed can spell trouble. And if you’re one for whom drinking is a slippery slope, remember that family members, especially kids, don’t deserve the trouble this causes. Drink lots of water, have a few snacks, and ease off the bottle if you feel yourself becoming sloppy, argumentative or emotional. Your kids and your spouse will thank you!

Go with the festive flow

In ‘normal’ times, there are so many things to do and groups of people to celebrate with, that the holiday season can throw off the family rhythm. In 2020 our routines have been so disrupted by changing restrictions, rules and regulations, that the disruption to our daily life is affecting many and we are all just as stressed but for a new set of reasons.

Meanwhile, as the seemingly endless Autumn school term continues, maybe homework isn’t getting started until bedtime hours… maybe meltdowns are becoming more frequent. How can you fit in more family time around Christmas and what can we still reasonably do at the moment?

If a cookie baking party with cousins just isn’t on the cards, how about dialling things down to Christmas movies, popcorn and hot cocoa instead. Sometimes the best memories are made when we stop trying so hard and just go with the flow.

I don’t know about you but there is a large list of things I’ll miss this Christmas – wandering around Westonbirt Arboretum, the pantomime, the ballet, and possibly even being able to have family visit from other parts of the UK. But I know how lucky I am not to be dealing with loss and the grief of bereavement as so many are. Keeping a sense of perspective and practising gratitude is more important than ever.

Instead of blaming, give the benefit of the doubt

The holidays are such a chaotic time of year. But just because things are crazy doesn’t mean we can’t embrace the chaos, and recognize the good in each other. Suppose your hubby is getting grumpy because the dining room table is covered in craft supplies. Instead of getting in an argument about it or pointing blame, perhaps both of you can stop and see the good. Hubby can acknowledge the “happy chaos” of Christmas art projects done by his family. And you can take a moment to clear a space for him to relax at the end of a long day.

If you’re maxed out, just say no

Sure, it’s tempting to just keep on rolling with the Christmas plans, parties, gift-giving, baking and holiday fun. But there comes a point where we are so far off from the normal routine that the holiday happiness we’re trying to conjure up starts to just backfire on us. If anything, we just want to reduce our festive stress!

Remember that it’s okay to politely say no thanks if you’re not feeling up to partying – even if it’s on Zoom! Remember that store-bought can be a lifesaver when homemade is putting you on total overwhelm. Remember that this time of year is about slowing down and enjoying, not rushing and forcing good times.

Tomorrow is another day, so take a rest when you need it and you’ll be refreshed for the next fun thing. That’s a great way to reduce family stress for the holidays, and keep the smiles coming.  This year Christmas is likely to be very different for all of us and it’s time to focus on what matters and what we still have – rather than what we are missing.


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