Ewan Gillon: Keep calm and carry on for a joyous Christmas

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Christmas is supposed to be a joyous time, yet the increased emotional, psychological and financial pressures can leave us feeling drained and stressed out.

We often take out our stress on those closest to us so it’s not surprising that January 5, the day when most inquiries are made to divorce lawyers, is now known nationally as “Divorce Day”. But it need never get that far. We can learn how to avoid conflict, calm the situation down if arguments arise, and ensure that tempers remain under control so that everyone has a great time this festive season.

Bringing families together can often be fractious as there are so many different characters and relationship dynamics to take into account. Be sensible about this – if the thought of hosting your dour brother and his wife again brings you out in a cold sweat – don’t. Simply say you’ve made other plans.

It’s your Christmas too so why should you have to suffer in silence? Negative characters have a way of rubbing off on others so, if you’re not careful, everyone is suddenly in a terrible mood because of just one or two people. Avoid such conflict by ensuring that any negativity is avoided, or at least easily squashed.

Minimise arguments by ensuring the atmosphere at your house is as relaxing as possible. This may be tricky, particularly with small children in the house, but it helps to keep things on an even keel.

And don’t confuse ‘relaxing’ with ‘silent’ – sounds of music, laughter and children playing all add to the ambiance.

Whatever happens, keep your cool. If you feel yourself about to erupt, go for a walk and get some fresh air. If you find you’re arguing with a loved one regularly, give each other time out to go away and mull over the other’s perspective.

Having disagreements is natural and healthy, but not if they become destructive or one or both partners find themselves overly distressed. Remember that, if you argue late at night or in situations of high stress, things can escalate quickly, as well as disrupting your chances of having a good night’s sleep which is vital to ensure you’re firing on all cylinders the next day.

Communicating with each other is the key to any successful relationship, not just for couples. Your partner may have known you for years but they can’t read your mind – talk to them, about your day, and about your relationship. Listen to what they have to say and take their thoughts and concerns seriously. In the long term, poor communication can lead to conflict in any relationship.

Finally, don’t be afraid to look for professional help with your relationships – some problems are easier to address with the guidance of a neutral, professional party that can help you address difficulties in a controlled manner.

• Professor Ewan Gillon, First Psychology Edinburgh

TOP TIPS

• Avoid conflict – this prevents problems arising in the first place

• Relax and keep calm – surround yourself with relaxing, positive people and places

• Get some space – clear your head and get some fresh perspective

• Keep talking – effective communication is vital