Tis the season for gifts and gatherings. However, as we all know, sometimes gatherings can be riddled with tension. That is the nature of interpersonal relationships. So, here are my twelve tips to ensure you and your loved ones have a harmonious family Christmas. 

1. Be Assertive
Ask for help if you need it – be that food preparation, buying presents or organising where guests are going to sleep. Saying what you need is a strength not a weakness. By bottling up your frustrations, you will revert to being passive-aggressive which will lead to conflict. There is no shame in asking for help. 

2. Set Boundaries 
Before meeting with family and friends, define your boundaries. That is, what will and won’t tolerate. By sticking to these boundaries, you are more likely to have a more harmonious Christmas celebration. We all need boundaries and there is nothing wrong with establishing a few as an act of self-care. 

3. Have a ‘Safe Word’
Before your Christmas gatherings, speak to someone you trust and decide on a ‘safe word.’ It can be something like “apple pie,” which no one else will think much of. If conversations or actions start to become irritating or upsetting, use your safe word in casual conversation to notify the person you trust, and he or she can help steer the conversation or actions into a neutral zone. 

4. Be Grateful
It is easy to concentrate on the negative things. Whatever your circumstances, try and be grateful for all you do have – however small. While this can be easier said than done, consider keeping a gratitude journal. Write down a few things you are grateful for each night and review the list in the morning to start your day. 

5. Count to Ten
If you feel stressed, overwhelmed or irritated, take a depth breath and then count to ten. Taking time out – even if it is just 5 minutes – will give you a time buffer and allow you to react or act in a thoughtful way rather than acting out of impulse. You can count in your head or quietly tap your fingers against a table or your leg. Focus on each number as you say it in your mind. This will ground you in the present moment. 

6. Really Listen
Take time to really listen to a friend or a family member. Christmas can a hard time for a lot of people and those feelings and stories can come out. Really listening means pausing, reflecting on what others are saying, and giving them time to tell the complete story. Don’t find ways to interject or interrupt. Give them the gift of time and the gift of an authentic listening ear. Then respond appropriately. 

7. Be Aware of Your Body Language
Sometimes we convey emotions we don’t mean to by our body language. Try to be mindful of your facial expressions and posture. Even when you believe you have a neutral expression, you could accidentally be portraying anger or boredom, which could upset family and friends. If someone questions you because of this body language, be sure to be honest about your true intentions. Let them know you were unaware of it.

8. Take a Break
Family can be overwhelming at times especially when conversations turn to politics, religion, or social beliefs. Remember your boundaries and if you need to step out of the room for a moment, politely do so. There is nothing wrong with exiting a conversation that makes you upset or uncomfortable, taking time to gather your thoughts and put your emotions in check, and returning ready to respond (if needed) instead of reacting. 

9. Remember Your Chosen Family
If you cannot physically leave the situation, take a moment to conjure up memories of your chosen family. That is, people in your life who are like family but are not biologically related to you. Remember a funny joke your friend once told you, or how happy you felt after a fun dinner party with your neighbours. Remembering these pleasant memories can take you out of a negative headspace if you find yourself held captive by one. 

10. Turn Up the Music
Music amplifies joy. Turn up the music and encourage your family to dance or sing it out. Letting go of judgement or self-consciousness and really enjoying the magic of music can not only boost your mood but can also bring you and your family closer together. 

11. Remember You Cannot Control the Feelings of Others
You can control your own behaviours – what comes out of your mouth, and even your thoughts. You can also respond appropriately when certain feelings arise within you. However, you cannot control the feelings of others. If you live your life a certain way or make choices that are great for you, but your parents or extended family disagree, remember that is okay! You aren’t in charge of their feelings or how they react to the choices you make in your life. You are only in charge of yourself. 

12. Have Fun
Some of the best memories are made around the Christmas season. Try to spot the joyous moments, even if you’re struggling.

Is there something about Christmas that makes you smile? Find your light and hold onto it. Christmas will come and go in the blink of an eye. Cherish the little moments as best as you can. 

words by Salman Raza, author of Life’s Non-Conformities: An Auditor’s Tale of Practical Application of Social, Emotional & Behavioral Strategies, out now, priced £18.99 available on salmanraza.net and Amazon.