Zoe Williams wrote this week in the Guardian about the things that can go wrong when we get together with family at Christmas.
It’s not surprising that there are a few, let’s say, “tensions”, when we bring together people of different generations, add new partners or overtired toddlers, keep them indoors, eat too much, and throw some alcohol and different opinions on politics, covid and football into the mix.
On top of this, we also have stressors when we interact with other people – if you know what these are, you can avoid triggering other people and manage your own stressors better.
Here are some things to watch out for.
Extraversion and Introversion
One of the most noticeable differences between people is whether they are more extraverted or more introverted. Nobody is completely one or the other – if they were, they’d be a 24/7 party animal or a hermit. We are all a mixture, but our balance naturally tends more towards one than the other. We all need some time alone and some time with others, but the balance between the two varies from person to person.
This is a difficult balance to find at Christmas. The people who have a bias towards introversion need time alone, but often feel pressured by others to join in with the conversation and activities. The people who have a bias towards extraversion have a natural drive to be with others and can find it odd if their family members are not so keen to join in the fun.
I consciously have to put my introversion to one side for Christmas and make the most of the precious time with my lovely sons and their girlfriends. But I feel an internal pressure building up – the need to spend more time writing or reading. While I can’t fulfil that need until they have left, I do benefit from 20 minutes here and there of being alone, often retreating to the bathroom to read, where I can’t be disturbed. My elder son is similar and can frequently be found out of sight in the conservatory reading a book while the rest of the family is chatting and bustling around in the kitchen.
My husband has the Navigator Interaction Style (an introverted style). He has an inner need to have a course of action and one of his stressors is not knowing what is going to happen. He likes to have a plan for each day. Before the family arrives, we plan what we might do each day, where we might go, the meals and the shopping list.
Like most Navigators, he believes that it is worth making the effort to think ahead. He feels that things are under control and we get off to a good start.
I have the Synthesiser style, also an introverted style. My inner drive when I am with others is to get the “best” result for everyone. This means that before making a decision – even about simple things like what time we should eat or where we should go for a walk – I like to consult people and try to find something that accommodates everyone’s needs. This takes time and can cause confusion while people wait to find out the decision.
Sometimes it’s not possible to find a solution that suits everyone. I am learning that a “good enough” decision is good enough!
We don’t have any Mobilisers (an extraverted style) in our immediate family. If we did, they would probably find my consultative approach and my husband’s need to think things through, frustrating! Mobilisers like to have action and their stressor is triggered when nothing is being accomplished. So hanging around waiting for something to happen is stressful for them. They like activity – things to do, people to see, a busy schedule.
If you are a Mobiliser, then you may need to consciously relax and take a bit of time out, or let other people take charge sometimes.
Energisers (also an extraverted style) have an inner drive to involve other people and be involved themselves. They like to be at the centre of the action, encouraging others to take part. Their stressor is others not wanting to be involved. My younger son has this style. He is always around other people, offers to help in the kitchen, organises games, dresses up as Santa to give out the presents, and suggests what we could do together.
Everyone else often expects Energisers to be the life and soul of the party, but even they need some downtime. If you are an Energiser, make sure you give yourself a break and don’t be discouraged if your family don’t always join in.
Top Tips for Everyone
Get some fresh air and exercise every day
Use music to change the mood of the room
Play board games or cards or physical games
Know what you need to do to deal with your stressors
Help other people manage their stressors.
Most of all – Have a Happy Christmas!