We’re now at the beginning of December and Christmas is bearing down upon us like a train with no brakes.
When I use the term Christmas, I mean the Christmas Holiday period, not specifically the Christian observance as such.
Now, for many of you Christmas really is a joyful time: a chance to get together with family and friends; maybe even acknowledge the religious reasons for the day. Or if not, a chance to connect and commune with some of the people you care about.
Or you could be someone who likes to be alone at Christmas; you’re not particularly interested in the ‘institution’ of Christmas; it may not be part of your own religious life; you may just want the time to yourself.
For others of you, though, Christmas is not such a joyful time. It can be a lonely and isolating experience if you don’t have friends and family around them, and even for those of you who do.
Christmas can also be a stressful and exhausting time as people feel the pressure of buying presents, preparing meals and dealing with people they’d rather not spend their time with.
Over the next few weeks in the lead up to Christmas Day, I’ll be offering some hints and tips that just might make this Christmas more bearable, less stressful, dare we say, possibly more enjoyable.
My first tip is to make sure you have a realistic view of what’s going to happen. One reason why the holidays can be so additionally stressful is that people don’t come up to your expectations.
Or should we be more honest and use the word ‘fantasies’. For in my experience, people have fantasies about what’s going to happen when everyone gets together that have no bearing whatsoever on reality: “This year, my brother and I will get along.” “This year Uncle Reg won’t get drunk.” “This year Mum won’t get on my nerves.”
Unless something has radically changed then people (including yourself) will behave as they did last year, maybe even worse.
If you have a realistic expectation of other people’s behaviour then you avoid the deep disappointment, frustration and anger that happens during and after these intense get-togethers.
My second tip is that having grounded yourself in reality, it’s time to set a whole lot of boundaries. You’re going to read this tip more than once, as it is pivotal if you want to have an easier time.
The thing about boundaries, is that most of us know what we want and don’t want. What we’re really bad at is letting other people know in a way that they can hear. Two things usually end up happening:
1) You never set the boundary so no one else know what you want other than you. You then have an on-going monologue in your head along the lines of “how come they don’t know what I want” or “they should know….” Or “I can’t believe they didn’t….”
2) You wait to set a boundary till you are near breaking point and it all comes out through gritted teeth or shouty or aggravated or frustrated or angry. Whichever way it comes out, it will tend to be an inappropriate response.
Something to remember: a boundary is for the other person. They are not going to be able to read your mind – you have to tell them.
For instance, if you only want to spend Christmas Day with your family and not Boxing Day, then you need to let people know now, not on Christmas Eve and not in a defensive way.
It could be as simple as: “I thought I’d let you know that this year I’m really looking forward to being with you on Christmas Day. I have other plans for Boxing Day so won’t be staying over.”
Typical comeback (or what you fear will be said) might be: “But you always stay for Boxing Day! What’s more important than being with your family?”
And here’s where you can avoid creating more conflict: “I see you’re really disappointed, which is why we need to have a fabulous day on Christmas when we will be together as a family.”
Key to that kind of response: acknowledgement of how the other person feels, no justifications, no ‘I’ll-make-it up-to-you’ promises.
You may very well have to do this more than once. Getting in the habit of being clear with other people is one of the best communication skills you can have and I recommend practising boundary setting wherever you can so that it becomes second nature and not as a last resort.
More on surviving the holidays later in the week!
Check out Impact Factory’s range of Assertiveness, Conflict Management and Communication Skills Training.
By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory