Nine rules to avoid the Christmas nightmare

Christmas is one of the busiest times of the year.

From fighting over gifts to dealing with tantrums and family feuds, celebration and tension go hand-in-hand.

But it is possible to survive without feeling exhausted. Vanessa King, Head of Psychology at UK charity Action For Happiness, narrates The sun how to say goodbye to seasonal stress.


The pressure to serve up a Nigella-worthy Christmas dinner has led to many a meltdown.

According to a UK survey, a quarter of us find cooking our celebratory feast stressful.

And having different dietary needs can feel like you’re in your own nightmarish episode master chef.

Vanessa says: “It’s all about planning ahead. Make as much ahead of time as possible and freeze it.

“Don’t be a martyr – ask for help. Have everyone peel the potatoes and sprouts the day before. Put on some fun Christmas carols to make it part of the celebrations.”

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Our loved ones “coming by” can increase stress levels, especially when they overstep their reception.

Vanessa says, “Be honest and say, ‘It’s really nice to see you, but I have to move on.

“Can we find a time to meet up in the new year?” It’s about being as kind as possible, even if it means telling a little white lie.

“If we put the needs of others ahead of our own, we will be overwhelmed.”


When it comes to gifts, the pressure to deliver can be overwhelming. And with ads tempting kids with the latest gadgets, gift-giving can break the bank.

Vanessa says: “This year is going to be a real struggle for some people.

“If kids want a big gift and you just can’t afford it, talk to them. Explain your budget and tell them to pick something that fits.

“If you’re piling up huge credit card bills to buy them the latest toy, you might worry about how to pay for it.”


Children love Christmas and their anticipation can be contagious.

But when you’re trying to wrap presents, fill the turkey, and refill grandma’s sherry glass all at the same time, the kids’ demands can be annoying.

The answer is to give them your undivided attention – but only for a few minutes.

Vanessa says: “What children want most is time with their parents. However, make sure you’re not multitasking — or on your phone — while you’re with them.

“Fifteen minutes of your undivided time and attention will make them feel more special than an hour of distraction.”


Christmas is one of those rare times when we watch TV with others, but as different generations come together it doesn’t take long before we’re bickering over the remote control.

Vanessa says: “Christmas is about sharing a common experience.

“Let everyone choose something to watch and then stick with it so no one feels left out.”


Christmas and drinking go hand in hand. But while one sip can alleviate the festive stress, one too many increases the likelihood of a family flare-up.

Additionally, an angry Boxing Day hangover will leave you less able to cope with children.

Vanessa says: “Alcohol decreases our ability to manage our emotional responses and also affects our sleep.

“Combined with all that salty festive food and in a warm environment, it will also dehydrate you.

“Don’t forget to drink plenty of water along the way. It’s not about missing out, it’s about self-care.”


One in three of us predicts he’ll have a fight over Christmas, with long-standing family tensions being the main trigger.

From arguments over the TV to arguments about which games to play, there are many potential pitfalls.

Vanessa says, “Think, ‘How might I respond as a constructive adult when this happens?’ Some things just aren’t worth getting upset about, so we just have to let them go.

“Think of it as a gift to yourself — you can feel hurt, or you can choose not to respond.”


When you’ve been trapped under one roof with your loved ones for several days, it’s natural to want a break from it all. But how do you give yourself some “me” time without causing offense?

Vanessa says: “Taking time off to take the pressure off of Christmas is actually an investment. Instead of waiting for things to flare up, take regular deep breaths as a healthy preventive measure.

“It could be as simple as going for a walk and calling a friend, or making a playlist of soothing songs to listen to in the bath.”


If you go broke before the presents are unwrapped, don’t panic. Just be ready to trade that mince pie for a humble cake.

Vanessa says: “When you blow a gasket it’s really important to get yourself out of the situation.

“Go for a walk, then come back and have the courage to say, ‘I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have reacted that way. I was really angry’.

“It’s important not to catastrophe either. Avoid saying, “Christmas is ruined!” and throwing the turkey on the floor.

“Christmas is a pressure cooker and sometimes things like that happen.”

Vanessa King is the author of Happy List: 75 Lists for Happiness, Gratitude, and Wellbeing.

This article originally appeared in The Sun and is reproduced with permission

Originally published when I’m a Psychologist, here are nine rules to help you avoid a family argument this Christmas

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