In this post Joyce Campbell, NLP trainer, success coach and author of How To Get Off Your Backside And Live Your Life has put together some common ‘Christmas Stress’ scenarios, and ideas for dealing with them without resorting to knocking back the cooking sherry in the kitchen before midday!

Christmas

1. Last year your family seriously outstayed their welcome. They were meant to stay just two days, but they were having such a great time they decided to stay till after New Year. You went back to work completely frazzled. How do you avoid it happening again?

The main reason that guests outstay their welcome is that you haven’t had good communication up front, with arrival and departure times agreed in advance. So think ahead, and be clear about the extent of the invitation. Prime all other family members NOT to plead with them to stay either.

If you find yourself stuck again, you have two options really: suffer it, and try to enjoy yourself – it’s probably a compliment! Alternatively, you can ask when they plan on leaving, and if necessary, say something like ‘it’s been great having you, and we are very busy from Wednesday, so let’s do something special on Tuesday evening before you go’. If you decide to have them stay on, don’t spoil it for yourself and everyone else by being snappy – chill out and enjoy it.

2. Your open a present from your friend at a pre-Christmas night out, and discover that they have bought you an expensive present – but you’ve bought them a cheap box of chocolates. How do you handle it?

This is a tricky one, and it really is an occasion to believe that it’s the thought rather than the value of the gift that counts. Your friend presumably bought you something she thought you would like and enjoy using – so the issue is not that your gift is of a lower value, but rather that a box of chocolates is more suitable for an ’emergency’ gift rather than for a friend who you know you will be exchanging gifts with.

Some forward planning can help here – keep an eye out in advance for quirky stuff that you know your friend will appreciate, but that won’t have a clear monetary value attached to it – second hand shops, charity shops and craft fairs are all great places for that sort of gift. Don’t get into a spending war! If you get caught out on the day, sometimes you can say something like ‘I ordered your gift online, but it must have got caught in the Xmas post, so here is just a little something meanwhile, and I’ll bring your real present the next time I see you.’

You do need to deliver though if you go down this route – the other option is just to admit you had no time for shopping this year, and you are very sorry that you got such an unimaginative present, and stress how much you love what she has given you. The main thing is not to compare the gifts though – by all means apologise for yours, but don’t act as if the only reason you are sorry is that you’ve been caught out!

3. Your teen wants to go out drinking on Xmas Eve, but you don’t want them to be wrecked for Christmas Day. How do you get them to control themselves?

The bottom line is that you can’t really. So long as they are legally old enough to drink, there isn’t a great deal you can do, except be very clear that they are not having the car, and you don’t want them getting into anyone else’s either. A firm statement about your expectations of their behaviour on Christmas day is probably the best you can do. Make sure they eat before they go out, and remind them how their day will be ruined if they have an almighty hangover. Some things you just can’t control!

4. You’ve accepted an invitation to an acquaintance’s party. Your other half refuses to go. Come to think of it, you’re not keen on going either – you won’t really know anyone there. How to get out of it?

One of the things I always tell my clients is to prioritise the things that give them pleasure. Let go of some of the ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’ in life! My advice here is to have some clear and assertive communication – don’t just not turn up, (especially if the party involves a sit-down meal) but call and say something like ‘I’m so sorry, something has come up and we aren’t going to be able to make it tonight. I hope you have a wonderful evening though.’ Chances are that they will have so much else happening that won’t mind at all.

5. Christmas morning last year was a nightmare. The kids had been up since 4am, and by 9 o’clock they were screaming, fighting, and ignoring all their gifts. They were being a pain but your father in law made is all worse by getting on to you about how out of control and spoiled they were.

This is a bone of contention in many households on Christmas morning, and it may be that your father in law really is too frail to cope with the normal over-exuberance of kids on Christmas morning. However if he is just being a grump, then try just to jolly him along a bit. He can only upset you if you let him! Give him a glass of sherry, and if possible, send him into another room to watch telly for a while. Remind him that this is one day, and you are sure he wouldn’t want to be spoiling it for the kids. You don’t have to be the go between between the generations. If he moans at you about the kids, try just saying that you are fine with it on this one day.

Whatever you do, try to avoid getting drawn into a row – you won’t win, and everyone including you will feel bad. Shut yourself in the kitchen and do some deep breathing exercises, or bundle everyone into coats and get them out for some fresh air. Children also often miss breakfast and gorge on sugar on Christmas day, so trying to ensure that they have some milk and toast can help. Mid-morning you might want to put a new DVD on, and encourage everyone to sit and watch it for a while, to recharge everyone’s batteries a bit.

6. Last year your sister and her husband arrived having clearly just had a huge row. Christmas dinner was conducted in icy silence punctuated by barbed remarks. You ended up with indigestion, and the entire afternoon was ruined. What are you going to do if it happens again?

There is no easy way around this, I’m afraid. Sometimes you can divide and conquer, and separate them by asking one or the other to help you/take the kids for a walk/set the table etc. That can give some cooling off time if it’s just been a spat. However, if that doesn’t work, you are going to have to say something, or risk the entire day being spoiled. This is not a time to get into details though, and you don’t want to be dragged into taking sides.

Take each aside, and be clear and direct. I teach my clients a model for this, called BIB. This means you describe the behaviour (B) as it currently stands, you explain the impact (I) it is having, and you state the behaviour (B) you want to see instead. Something like this would cover it: ‘I’ve noticed that you and xx keep snapping at each other (B). I don’t want to get into the rights and wrongs of it just now, but it’s really causing an atmosphere and making everyone uncomfortable (I). Could you leave it aside for the day, and be pleasant to each other, please, (B) and if necessary, we can talk about it next week?’

It’s tough to do this, but it really is the only answer. Don’t apologise – you have a right to expect your guests to be courteous. If things are really bad, you might want to add a C for consequence to the process, i.e. ‘if you really can’t manage that right now, it might be better for you to go and cool off for a few hours, and I would love to see you later.’

7. It’s family tradition that you go to your in-laws for a couple of days between Christmas and New Year. You always feel you are being a burden. They sigh about the children wanting different meals, and plump up the cushions the instant you get off your chair. You’re dreading it already.

First, ask yourself if you’ve ever actually talked about the length of your stay with them. I remember well when a one-off invitation to my own in-laws the first year I was married was taken as ‘a tradition’ the following year. It may be that while they love you, they really don’t want house guests for days. So take the initiative and ask them what they want – or simply state that you will be shortening your visit this year.

If you are committed to staying, try saying how much you are enjoying yourself, but you feel they are doing all the running about, and it’s their holiday as well, and you will feel uncomfortable if they don’t let you help more. And then proactively do things like washing the dishes – don’t just throw out the general ‘anything I can do to help?’ question. If it’s really bad, you may want to bring it into the open, but saying that they seem a bit stressed, and you don’t want to add to that – would it be helpful if you left early, and arranged a visit for after the holidays?

8. Your 18 year-old niece is coming to stay for the festivities with her boyfriend. She wants to share a bed with him. Her parents are fine with it, but you’re not.

Unless you have masses of spare rooms, then people may have to double up anyway, in which case, putting her in with younger cousins etc. may help, and you can just do an airy explanation of how the sleeping arrangements are going to work. If she specifically asks you in advance,  it’s another example of the need for clear and assertive communication. Just be careful you don’t sound as if you are criticising her or her parents – a simple ‘I know you probably think I’m a bit old fashioned about this, but I really don’t feel comfortable about you and XX sleeping together while you are here’ is all that’s required.

If she asks why, you can simply say ‘I don’t know really, it just makes me feel odd – I guess I’m not ready to see you as having that sort of relationship yet.’ However, be sensitive – if you hear creaking floorboards on the stairs at 3am, don’t embarrass them by trying to catch them. You’ve made your point, just let it go.

9. Your neighbours always have a very boisterous party on Boxing Day. The racket can go on till breakfast, and you are always tired because your kids have been up since well before dawn.

If your neighbours throw riotous parties every weekend, then yes, you do need to complain, but if this is a once a year bash, I’d put up with the noise in the interests of good relationships – after all, you probably do things that annoy them every now and again. Living in harmony with neighbours needs a bit of give and take sometimes. One sleepless night isn’t going to harm you.

10. You are fed up with getting household goods or Christmas.

If no one takes the hint, buy yourself a present! You deserve something nice as well.