Keep Calm, it's only Christmas

7th December 2018

It’s the ‘most wonderful time of the year’… or is it? The pressure of making the big day ‘perfect’ can sometimes cause stress levels to spiral out of control; and underlying family tensions can escalate distressingly. Christina Mitchell chats with Alex Crow, an NLP practitioner, speaker and specialist in resilience and mindfulness, to share some valuable tips in relieving seasonal strain…

‘Life is 10% of what happens and 90% of how you react to it,’ observed American clergyman Charles R Swindoll. That makes sense – but knowing it’s so isn’t always enough. How can we control those reactions, and avoid getting angry when someone says or does something that upsets us? When your whole family gets together over the Christmas holidays, and something or someone ‘presses ‘your buttons’ and makes you angry or upset, the question you need to ask yourself, according to Alex Crow, mindfulness expert and founder of Stress Boffin, is ‘who’s driving the bus?’

What that really means is: who’s in charge of your emotions? “Only you have the power to decide how to react to what someone says or does and to build up your own emotional resilience,” he explains. “You can choose to frown and be angry, or upset – or you could ignore it or even, perhaps, step back and find it funny! This choice is always really up to you.” He reminds me of the quote by Eleanor Roosevelt: ‘You can often change your circumstances by changing your attitude…’ These are wise words, but just how easy are they to put into practice?

Picture the all-too-familiar scene…You’ve been up until 2am wrapping presents and making sure that you eat Santa’s mince pie; you took a slurp of the brandy and a chomp of the carrot that the kids left out for the reindeer. You might even have made boot-prints of snow (flour) throughout the house (great fun but a terror to clean up!) and you’ve been woken by your kids every two hours with calls of ‘is it morning yet?’.

There’s all the excitement of Christmas morning – but then the cooking begins. You’re stuck in the kitchen while everyone else gets to play with their new toys, and you have to accommodate everyone’s varying requirements: mashed potatoes as well as roast, for example, because granny has false teeth; a vegetarian option for your niece – oh, and gluten-free goodies for your brother. Is it any wonder that you start getting a little frayed at the edges?

“Remember, you don’t have to do it all yourself,” reminds Alex. “Delegate – make it part of the fun! Everyone can help, which takes off some of the pressure and makes it all more of a family event instead of you struggling along gamely on your own.”

Alex was a police officer in London for over 15 years and recalls, “we all knew that Christmas Day and Boxing Day would mean many calls to attend to domestic disturbances. But I wanted to understand why people should be fighting at this ‘happy’ time of year.”

Undoubtedly drink would often have something to do with it, he reflects, but he believes that one of the main causes was whole families getting together in the spirit of Christmas, when they would normally avoid seeing each other like the plague! “Before long, old arguments resurface and tension is built, which – in extreme cases – might even result in a call being made by neighbours to the police for a disturbance.”

Alex’s first-hand exposure to the many causes of life’s pressures and strains had a deep and lasting impact on him. He re-trained in hypnotism, mindfulness and NLP strategies, and now delivers stress relief programmes to individuals and groups across the UK. He says, “reactions are often instinctive to situations and the reactive, emotional response is not always the best or most appropriate behaviour. Becoming angry or violent is rarely the best solution; instead, just take a couple of moments to think of the best response”.

He quotes Holocaust survivor Viktor E Frankl, who is on record as saying ‘Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.’

This resonates with me. When we’re in the middle of a stressful situation it seems the worst thing in the world but, after a little while, we may wonder what all the fuss was about, realising that everything worked out for the best. Sometimes even very difficult times can bring some positive outcomes which wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

So, if you feel yourself getting cross or distressed about what someone else is doing or saying, take a breath, consider Alex’s advice and take a moment before you respond. Think: ‘what’s the best thing I can do in this situation?’ It might be to walk away, laugh, or even ignore it – especially since the chances of it still affecting you in a few months time are very remote.

Enjoy Christmas – and if Great Aunt Maud gets on your nerves – remember, it’s only once a year…

Alex's tips for emotional resilience this festive season…

1. Pause for thought:
• Give yourself a moment before responding when someone or something upsets you.
• Try a few mindful breaths; focus your attention on each inhalation and exhalation.
• Take ten minutes to go outside for a walk.
• Do something else to get a fresh perspective on the situation.

2. Don’t try to do it all yourself – delegate:
There are plenty of things that people can help with, both to give you a hand and to keep them out of mischief!
• Ask one of the the older children or an aunt to attend to the table decorations, for example
• Make a shy or awkward guest responsible for pouring drinks
• Get the youngesr kids on to the potato peeling – make it a competition who can peel in the longest line.

3. Go easy on the booze
• Pace yourself; then you will enjoy Christmas and still be able to remember it.
• Try not to have a drink until lunch time, tempting though it may be to do so.
• Drink plenty of water beforehand to keep hydrated, as dehydration causes frayed nerves too.
So, try to lay off the Bucks Fizz for breakfast, the sherry mid-morning and the pre-dinner Gin and Tonic. With white wine for your starter, red wine for the main course and perhaps a glass or two of champagne this is already more than enough for one day! ‘It is only once a year’, you might say, but alcohol can cause us to say things which we’d normally keep to ourselves and may also cause us to act inappropriately.

4. Try out different lenses:
It’s often useful to imagine the situation as if you are looking through different lenses…
A reverse lens – how does this situation look from the other person’s point of view? Often we’re so wrapped up in what is happening that we can’t see how what we are saying or doing is causing the other person to react in the way they are. Also, remember, everyone is doing everything with positive intentions. Try to see things from their point of view.
A wide-angle lens – look at the situation from a wider point of view – who else is it affecting? What lessons can be learned so that this doesn’t happen again?
A long-distance lens – what are you going to feel about this situation in six months time? Remember something which upset you a while ago and think about how you feel about it now? Is this worth making a fuss over.

These tips should help you keep calm, enjoy Christmas and re-frame potentially stressful or upsetting situations.

After studying body language, psychology, NLP, hypnosis and a host of other techniques, Alex now travels all over the world speaking and training. To find out more about his workshops visit

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