Psychiatrist tells how to cope with extra family time at Christmas

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There is so much that is great about the Christmas period – tinsel, mince pies, mulled wine, need we go on? – but it can also come with its difficulties.

For many of us, the holidays are when we spend more solid time with family than at any other time of the year. While family time is a wonderful thing, it can be trying – particularly as you’re spending quite a lot of intensive time together.

Psychiatrist and clinical director Pablo Vandenabeele shared his top tips on how to survive all that family time, so you really can keep this time of year merry.

1. Have patience
“Spending time with loved ones is great. However, it’s common to find we get annoyed with those we care about. Although keeping quiet may help to keep the peace, avoiding the issue can have a negative impact on your stress levels.

“There are ways to express a difference of opinion on politics or the right way to carve the turkey, without it developing into an argument. For example, avoid responding in the heat of the moment so that a minor disagreement doesn’t escalate.”

2. Know your limits
“Many of us try to commit to festive celebrations with family members that span the country. It’s important to recognise your limits so you don’t create additional pressure and cause anxiety and mental and physical burnout over Christmas.

“Although it is tempting to agree to be at every family gathering, ensuring you take a break from rushing around will help you to recharge your batteries and enjoy the festive period.”

3. Drink responsibly
“While you might think a drink will alleviate the stress of being surrounded by all your extended family, alcohol is a depressant, so it can actually make you feel worse. If you need to de-stress, a brisk walk can help both your mind and body.”

4. It doesn’t have to be perfect
“Christmas can often be one of the few occasions extended families spend time together, so many of us feel pressured to create the ‘perfect day’. However, it’s important not to be hard on yourself if your presents don’t look like they’ve been professionally gift-wrapped, or the turkey is dry.

“Remember, hosting Christmas isn’t about delivering a five-star service. Enjoy spending time with those you care about.”

5. Financial woes
“When you start to add up the cost of the festive season it can come to a small fortune.

“If the idea of buying presents for all your family is too much, try something like a secret Santa approach. It is also a good game that brings the family together.”

6. Make time for exercise
“The Christmas period is a time for indulgence, and exercise plans often fall by the wayside, particularly if it’s cold. However, exercise is a great way to reduce stress as it burns off hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline.

“A post-Christmas dinner walk with the family helps to shift the ‘cabin fever’ feel. It gives the whole family a chance to stretch their legs and can help improve everyone’s mood.”

What are your Christmas day traditions?

– With PA

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