Susannah Taylor: How not to go Christmas crackers

There’s always one person in the family who winds us up at Christmas – the aunt who goes on about you having a baby when you’ve been trying for years or the in-law who tells you her gravy is better. When you’re already busting a gut, just one small comment can ruin everything.

Psychotherapist Alejandra Sarmiento from mental-health clinic explains how old patterns of behaviour often replay when families reunite. ‘When we were younger, there were certain family dynamics which, even though we’re now adults, our brains can take us straight back to and petty rows can easily happen.’

Christmas getting you down? Pause, let the feelings rise… and subside

So how can we avoid festive fireworks? First, says Alejandra, try not to set ridiculously high expectations: ‘If you’re too rigid in your thinking you will be easy to break.’ Also acknowledge that a certain someone will probably annoy you. This will help you control your emotions if they do. It’s important, too, she says, to avoid ‘toxic positivity’ mode, where for days your ‘perma-smile’ is hiding the fact that you want to yell at someone. This tactic will undoubtedly lead to an explosion.

Of course, it’s not only others or the pressure for perfection we put on ourselves that can tip us over the edge; it’s the financial burden – the season’s biggest strain of all, says Alejandra. To help cut the stress – and the rows, too – she has this advice…

Rethink your gift list

Do we actually need to give presents to everyone? Or how about all guests bring something to share the financial load?

Go easy on yourself

While you may enjoy preparing for Christmas, remember: it’s meant to be fun, not make your hair fall out. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your to-do list, Alejandra suggests self-compassion, which basically means: ‘Give yourself a break.’ Let’s face it, she says, when people are three glasses of wine in they can’t taste the chestnuts in the sprouts.

Sidestep conflict

If Aunty Joan makes one of her passive-aggressive remarks, instead of retaliating or silently seething, Alejandra suggests you pause, let the feeling rise… then decide calmly not to go there.

Deflect put-downs with humour

OK, so your mum says she doesn’t like your haircut. Instead of being cross, respond to her remark with something funny – tell her you’re getting an undercut next. This will show you’ve acknowledged her comment but are not fussed.

Avoid ‘no-go’ topics

The past two years have thrown up a lot of divisive subjects – for example, you might be vaccinated but your daughter isn’t. Don’t go there, warns Alejandra – current issues are a temporary state, so don’t do permanent damage to your relationships by debating them.

Remember basic self-care

While you may not have time to wallow in the bath, do take care of yourself by making eating well, moving often and sleeping enough non-negotiable.

Finally, if all else fails, sit in the car and scream!

This is something Alejandra suggests to clients if emotions are running high as it’s better, she says, to get the feelings out than have them boil over. So take yourself off to the car, turn up the music, sing at the top of your voice and scream. You’ll have a happier Christmas for it.

Last-minute stocking fillers

Gaiam Cold Therapy Massage Roll, £18, Keep in the freezer for ice-cold muscle therapy.

Contigo Luxe Autoseal Travel Mug drinks flask, £22.45, Slimline, leak-proof and keeps drinks hot/cold for hours – travel mug perfection.

Mala Collective beads, £109, These help focus the mind, soothe the soul and aid meditation.

READ MORE: How to have a healthier Christmas