According to the British Association of Anger Management, Christmas is the most stressful time of year for many people and more than half of Brits report that they have familial disagreements at this time of year. A quarter of all adults say that their relationship with their partner is put under stress during the festive season and an eight get to the point of wanting to split up, resulting in an increase of 59% for calls to Relate. Surprisingly, the average British family has its first argument before 10am on Christmas Day!
For much of the year, we are distracted by work and social activities, spending increasinly little time together interacting as families, but on Christmas Day, most people spend a full day of 16 hours or more crammed into a couple of rooms and being forced to interact and find common pursuits. To entertain a variety of generations and personalities for that length of time under those conditions is destined to be a challenge if out of the ordinary for your family. Add to it the pressure of presenting a special meal and gifts, the clearing up, agreeing on what to play or watch on TV, not to mention an unusual amount of alcohol, and tensions are likely to run high.
Preparation is key
Don't give yourself a hard time over Christmas. Try to remember that it is just one day of the year and it is not all your responsibility to make it go smoothly. Make a list of everything that needs to be done, delegate appropriately to other family members and do as much as you can before the big day. Get a firm agreement from everyone about what they will do both beforehand and on the big day.
Identify what might cause arguments and make arrangements to try to avoid conflict. If Aunti Jean doesn't get on with her ex-husband but you are expected to see both on the day, agree that you will visit one of them in the morning and one a couple of hours later. If you visit them, you are in control of when you arrive and leave, whereas if they come to you, it might be difficult to ensure they leave on time.
Think about the people you are likely to get angry with - make a list of their good points and when they say or do something that might ordinarily provoke you, focus on the list. Try to identify why they make you angry and rationalise how unimportant their comments and behaviour are to you and your life. Give yourself a mantra to repeat in your head on the day that will make you feel calmer and less affected by their actions.
Don't provoke explosive situations just before Christmas by tackling difficult situations by phone, text or email just beforehand. Facial expressions are vital to appreciating the other person's point of view in conflict.
On the big day
Go to bed early on Christmas Eve and take action to avoid feeling hungover on Christmas Day. If you are properly rested and feel physically well you will be able to deal with things better.
Don't drink too much alcohol - it is more difficult to keep perspective when under the influence of stimulants and you are likely to feel more emotional and less objective about situations.
If you have background music, try to make it soft and calming to put everyone in a more relaxed mood. Bing Crosby is likely to invoke a calmer mood than Slade!
Try to avoid controversial topics on the big day - if certain topics always lead to conflict, employ some useful platitudes to put them aside for another time.
If you start to feel frustrated, take deep breaths and count to ten. With each number up to 5, try to consider the negative repercussions of getting angry and from 6 to 10, repeat your calming mantra in your head.
If you feel your frustration escalating into anger, find a plausable excuse to remove yourself from the situation. Perhaps find a reason to take something into another room to give yourself space to calm down or say that you need to go for a walk to work up an appetite, walk off your big meal or give the dog some exercise. Ensure that it doesn't appear that you are going off in a bad mood, so ensure you announce your reason for departure with a smile.
Remember that if you shout, others are likely to shout back at you, so try to say things calmly even if you feel angry.
Be the bigger person - for one day it doesn't really matter if the children don't eat their sprouts, if you have to be polite to someone you don't like or if you have to listen to the same story for the tenth time. Smile and nod and remain quiet for the sake of a more pleasant day for all. Remember who is important to you and stay calm for their sake.
Try to smile and find the positive in everything. Smiling releases endorphines so even if you don't feel like smiling initially, you may start to feel happier after a while. Positive thinking and saying nice things as a response to something that will usually provoke your anger will make you feel virtuous. Try complementing people that you don't usually get along well with - it will help to build bridges.
Look for the positives - elderly parents or children may cause some of the largest amounts of stress at Christmas, but be grateful that they are still with you - you'll miss them when they've gone.
General Checklist for Managing Anger
- Stop, think, look at the bigger picture
- Listen - it's OK to have a different opinion - agree to differ and move on
- Offload - find someone you can explain your frustrations to away from the conflict
- Keep an anger management diary - identify your triggers and how you could have handled things differently
- Don't take things personally - if you are sure that your actions were reasonable, just accept that you have done the right thing and move on. If not, apologise and behave differently in the future.