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How to have a stress-free family Christmas

Whilst it is the season to be jolly, it's not always that simple.

Last-minute presents, dealing with the in-laws, over-excited children and the decision over where to spend Christmas Day all contribute to stress. If you're hosting friend and family, it can be easy to feel under pressure.

So what can you do if all the preparations are starting to get to you? "Above all, remember it is just one day," says counsellor and life coach Diana Parkinson. "And there's no point having a nervous breakdown to survive one day. You just need a nice meal and that's all - people take on far too much. Delegate!"

If things are getting stressful, keep these tips in mind:

Where to spend Christmas Day 

It’s a decision that many families face each year. It can cause a headache for fear of offending someone because you’ve decided to go elsewhere or stay at home.

If you have young children, try to opt to spend Christmas Day at your own home. "You don't want to stress about Great Aunt Matilda's house as your kids run riot," says Diana. Children need their own routine and their own things around them when they are young. Avoiding having to travel great distances makes a lot of sense.

"And if your relationship is not good with other family members, then just don't see them on Christmas Day," continues Diana. “You can always drop in and visit your extended family over Boxing Day and New Year."

A traditional turkey, a goose – or something else?

It's difficult trying to please everyone – and you can’t please everyone all of the time. However, you can avoid difficulties by checking in advance if guests have dietary needs. There are many recipes available online to cater for vegetarians, vegans or people with food allergies.

If you're hosting, you can ask people to help. Your guests can help you to set the table or serve drinks. If you’re catering for a large party then ask everyone to bring a dish.

Difficult in-laws

All joking aside, Christmas is the time of year when you spend time with everyone, including your in-laws. The close proximity of the celebrations can place a strain on relationships. People may resent having to spend more time than they would like with a partner’s parents or siblings.

"Either don't invite them or invite them with a glad heart if you do," adds Diana. "People can pick up on it if you are dreading their visit." Once the decision is made about where you’re spending Christmas together, stay positive. Try to steer clear of subjects that may cause awkward conversations or full-blown arguments.

Keeping everyone happy

Most people like to feel useful when they’ve been invited over for Christmas. Delegate little jobs such as peeling vegetables, setting the table or pouring festive drinks.

To avoid any post-dinner slumps or awkward conversation, get someone to organise post-dinner games. Dust off old board games or try a team game on the kids' games console. Consider non-TV related activities this year. It’s unlikely everyone will want to watch the same thing and a more interactive activity keeps everyone involved and continues the festive spirit.

Surviving two or three days in a row…

It can be tricky if guests have stayed beyond Boxing Day and are getting under each others' feet. Plan some fun activities for all the family. Catch the local pantomime, go out for a walk or if it has snowed, get everyone involved in building a snowman. Anything that will get everyone out of the house for a few hours will help improve your state of mind.

Another important thing to remember is that you can step away if things feel too stressful. Having a few moments to yourself can help you to stay relaxed in the midst of a busy celebration.

Further information:

The Christmas season isn’t always easy. If you’re a Benenden Health member, you can access our Mental Health Helpline 24/7. Whether you're suffering from anxiety, depression, bereavement or relationship problems, we can make sure you don’t have to handle it alone by providing access to an experienced therapist.