Dealing with family conflict at Christmas

December 30th, 2022 5:10 PM

By Southern Star Team

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Linda Hamilton, Kinsale-based Cognitive Behavioural Therapist and Southern Star writer says we can’t control people, but we can control how we react to them

Why is the idea of a family Christmas stressful?

Family get-togethers can be great, but family dynamics can also be tricky. A trip back home, particularly for adult children, can often be a ‘psychological minefield’, to quote author Oliver Burkeman. It’s common for both siblings and parents to regress back into family roles adopted many years earlier. Most of the time, this is perfectly harmless and can involve an element of comedy that binds the family together, but other times old family alliances and divisions resurface. 


What can we do in a moment of conflict?

Remember to respond, not react. You may not be able to control what someone else says or does, but you can control how you respond. Stay calm, take a few deep breaths, and pause for as long as you need to. If someone is being aggressive to you, or if you begin to feel overwhelmed, it may be best to say nothing and leave the room.


And any tips in general to help maintain harmony for the holiday period?

The most ancient and ultimately ineffective stress reliever – alcohol – should be consumed in moderation. Alcohol is a depressant: far from curing the blues, it accentuates them. Instead, try to stay active. It’s nice to take it easy at Christmas but cabin fever can set in, and hours spent overindulging in front of the TV can lead to restlessness and fatigue. Also, find room for the stress-relieving measures you use in normal day-to-day life, whether that be meeting a friend for a coffee, taking a hot bath, making time for a short mindfulness session, a walk with the dog – whatever works for you.


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