10 Survival Tips for Christmas

Tis the season to be jolly’ so the carol goes, but when Chico Marx said to Groucho, ‘There ain’t no Sanity Clause!’ he had a point.

While aiming to be bright and merry, I know Christmas can be stressful as we try to fit hoards of extra activities into our schedules and all around us there are reminders that the clock is ticking down to the day. Factor in long hours spent with family members and a huge dollop of over indulgence and I’m wondering if Santa got the best deal – popping in unseen when everyone is asleep. Enough of the bar humbug!

Tree with Christmas lightsWhether you will be ensconced with family or an expat making a Skype call home, I hope these practical tips and thoughts on resilience will help ease the path to a happy Christmas.

1. Think positive, but be realistic; how do you normally feel the day after Christmas? What words does it conjure up for you and what would you like to be different this year?

2. When you feel your inner eight year old (the badly behaved part) about to respond to something your sibling throws out there, it’s probably time to make your excuses and leave (or at least pay a visit to the smallest room in the house). There you can take a few slow, deep breaths and ask yourself if you really want to bite or let it go.

3. Close your eyes and imagine anyone who is annoying you wrapped in a ball of golden stringy light – preferably without a piece of the string around their neck – sound weird? Try it anyway or imagine your own positive image and aim to keep interactions authentic and respectful.

4. Family gatherings can be a breeding ground for attention and admiration seeking behaviours. Maintain distance from anyone who is really gunning to push your buttons, you could also change the subject by having a few positive things ready to say.

5. Drink a glass of water between alcoholic ones and eat light between the feasts (avoid sugar, fats and processed carbohydrates if you can, at those times).

6. Plan longer journeys and if you need to, check the weather forecast and traffic hotspots before setting off to avoid disappointment and stress.

7. Get out in the fresh air and take some of your favourite exercise (or if you don’t have one, choose the one you loath least) it will boost happy hormones into your system. A family walk together is a shared experience and might pass time in a positive way.

8. Enjoy the company of young children and their presents, if they become fractious give them a fair warning before disciplining them and make sure everyone gets enough sleep.

9. Spreading a little goodwill can make you feel nice; contact someone who you imagine would like to hear from you. Remember John Lennon said, ‘And so this is Christmas . . . what have you done?

10. Know that you deserve to enjoy the festive season, remember what you like about it and if it still proves challenging, take heart, it will soon be over.


Forgive me one last quotation, ‘A lovely thing about Christmas is that it’s compulsory, like a thunderstorm, and we all go through it together,’ author Garrison Keillor.

So keep smiling and remember if you find yourself struggling at this time, you are not alone.

If you would like more help, here is a link to Mind’s 10 commandments of stress reduction at Christmas: http://www.mind.org.uk/blog/8084_10_ways_to_reduce_christmas_stress

If you have any comments or tips to add, please share them below.

Are you in transition? I hope my 15 survival tips will help…..

Presented at the 2010 Families in Global Transition Conference



I have outlined some pro-active strategies for coping with losses.  Pick the ones that are most relevant to you.

Emotional Outlets:

  1. Try to make a conscious effort to think about how you feel.  Allow yourself 10 minutes to feel it before moving on with your day.  It may help to make time to remember people or places.  Ask yourself “What am I feeling right now?”  You could write about your feelings to help shift them or tell someone how you feel.
  2. Try writing a few lines before you go to sleep each night – keeping a journal of whatever comes into your head.  You might want to thinkabout a) how you felt as your reflect on the day and b) why you think you feel that way?
  3. Meditation– if you’ve no experience you could try one free on line; try Googling “chill meditation podcasts.”
  4. Creative pursuits are a time honoured way of relaxing and communicating.  Is there something you’ve always fancied trying? Why not try painting, photography or writing about your unusual life?
  5. Our sense of smell is most powerful where memories are concerned – bergamot always reminds me of family holidays in France.  Find out which scents energize you or make you feel good and keep them close by.
  6. Listen to music that touches your soul.  Ask yourself what mood you are in and choose something to match it.
  7. Studies have shown that prayer can help people heal, if you believe in a higher power then pray!

What can we do to help maintain a healthy attitude to attachments?

Practical Guidance:

1         Say your goodbyes before you leave to allow for closure, in doing so you will be providing your children with a great role model.  You can follow up by writing a note or call someone you wish you had said goodbye to but didn’t.

2         Take photographs of places which have been special or you have simply visited regularly.  Children will benefit from being able to see the images of the place where they once lived and the people who inhabited it.

Create a memory box or scrapbook and fill it with photographs, souvenirs and mementos.

3         If possible, make regular visits (at least annually for young children) to stay in touch with family/ long term friends, as well as the places and culture that you wish to be connected with.

4         Talk about important people, such as grandparents, to keep their presence alive.  Encourage correspondence – this doesn’t have to be a letter, try sending artwork, press cuttings, school magazines etc.

5         If possible stay connected by maintaining electronic/IT provision for yourself and your children with:

Telephone calls.


MS Messenger and Skype allow use of a webcam so that the two parties can see each other while chatting (both are free).

Facebook  is a way of supporting networking, particularly amongst teens. You could help your child set it up to ensure appropriate use of security functions.

6         Teenagers

Teenagers are at an exciting stage of their life.  The changes are profound – being physical, emotional, intellectual and even spiritual.  It can be exhilarating and also overwhelming as they sit between their childhood and adulthood.

Accepting a major life change which has been imposed upon them can be tough and cause mood swings and a feeling of being out of control of their life.  They might be angry and feel lost or deserted, depressed even.  These are natural feelings that need expression.

If the move was unexpected or sudden, they may experience shock and disbelief as part of their adjustment process.

As for all ages of children, parents need to encourage an open dialogue with them and other trusted adults, possibly teachers or counselors.  Help arrange introductions to friends of a similar age group.  Expression through creative pursuits may be another outlet eg music, literature, writing, poetry and art.

7 Children Aged 6 – 12

Children will need to be ‘held’ emotionally as their world changes beyond recognition.  Chat to them about what might happen as the move is impending.

Once you know something for certain communicate it to them, for example, some facts about the kind of destination you are going to.  Be honest about unknowns and ambiguities; if possible offer some idea of when you will be able to tell them more information.  The objective is to encourage trust and a feeling that they are stakeholders in the move.

Some uncertainties can be discussed in an exciting way, for example, the opportunity to visit interesting places and making new friends.

When a child is sad or grieving allow them to express this fully without pressure to feel cheerful.  Acknowledge that there will be endings and losses for all of you.

8 Young Children Under 6

It is often said that young children and infants are easy to move around as they don’t really know what’s happening.   Perhaps because an infant’s communication skills are not developed and their ability to understand and express what is going on is limited.  But we now know through scientific research on the function of the brain, that bonds/attachments are formed after a baby is a few weeks old.  Infants may be aware of changes to their environment and feel unsettled and likewise young children may be experiencing losses but are unable to communicate their feelings to you.

In young children, making time for physical interactive play helps to stimulate the emotion-regulating areas in the brain.

When your child is distressed, prompt cuddling and soothing will calm them by releasing anti anxiety hormones (Gamma-aminobutyric acid).  This approach has been shown to help avoid oversensitivity to stress later in life, such as separation anxiety and panic attacks.

Maintaining habits and elements of predictability in their life will make the child feel safe and secure.