Christmas is Not Time to Resolve Family Conflicts: Make It Stress-Free

True Message of Christmas
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Christmas is only a few days away and it’s an exciting time but also a very stressful time. With all the festivities comes a very rushed time of year with so much to do in so little time. Decorating, cooking, buying presents for everyone on your list and traveling to be with friends and family all takes a toll on our mental health and leads to stress, anxiety, frustration and even illness.

The good news is despite everything that happens leading up to and on Christmas, it is very possible to enjoy this time of year without getting bogged down from stress. Here are a few tips:

Don’t procrastinate
Procrastination is the enemy of success in any venture. If you wait until the last minute you’re going to be pressed for time and the results will be lackluster. Not procrastinating is essential to enjoying the Christmas season. Start early because saving it all for the last minute will raise your stress levels. Set out to accomplish a little each day and you’ll be amazed at how much you actually get done in just a week. Prioritizing a list from most important to least important tasks will also help you manage your activities better.

Get alone
We are constantly surrounded by other people during the Christmas season. We spend time with friends and family, neighbors and attend office parties. These are all important relationships but it’s also important to spend some time by yourself to get quiet with your thoughts. Ask your spouse to watch the kids for an hour and go to the spa, or go for a jog. Seeking some solitude is both healthy and necessary to reduce stress and improve mental health. You shouldn’t feel guilty about seeking out some alone time.

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Expect things to go wrong
As certain as the sun will rise in the east and set in the west, things will go wrong during Christmas. That’s a reality and the best advice to reduce stress from things going wrong is to accept it. Your son may hate his Christmas gift; your daughter might get sick; your parents might miss Christmas because of a snow storm; the point is things will go wrong. Appreciate the season for the time spent with loved ones and creating new memories, and don’t sweat the small stuff.

Christmas is not the time to resolve family conflicts
Many individuals use Christmas to try to resolve long standing conflicts with family members. Uncle Lou might be travelling in from halfway across the country so the natural instinct is to settle that argument from a few years ago that still irritates you when you think about it. Christmas is not the time to do this. Often the consequences are disastrous, particularly when alcohol is involved. Leave addressing those issues to a later time in a one-to-one conversation.

Let others help
When someone asks if you would like help, take them up on their offer. Don’t feel like you have to be the hero of Christmas and do everything by yourself. In fact, it’s perfectly ok to ask everyone to chip in. Ask each person to bring a dish to dinner, or make decorating a family activity where the kids help out, for example. If you have a hard time giving up control, delegate small tasks that you can still be a part of but not responsible for the brunt of the work.

Eliminate financial stressors
Financial issues are one of the main stressors in American society today. Unfortunately, as cliché as it sounds, we tend to forget the real meaning of the holiday season. Parents want to buy that perfect Christmas gift for their children, but big ticket items can take a toll on your wallet and your stress level. When it comes to holiday shopping and buying gifts for everyone on your list, make a budget and don’t even overspend by a dollar. Financial experts encourage us not to run up credit cards for Christmas shopping, and this is excellent advice.

The very best advice for everybody this Christmas: take care of yourself. Make sure you eat three meals each day (without overindulging), stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and maintain your level of physical activity. Even taking a short walk in the evening can help reduce stress. If you are seeing a mental health professional for depression, anxiety or another condition and are taking medication, don’t forget to take your meds exactly as prescribed.
This year, you can make it a stress free Merry Christmas.

Dr. Prakash Masand is president of Global Medical Education. He is a former consulting professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University Medical Center.

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