People who work in retail think the holidays are a busy time for them and it is, of course. But, as a professional coach, I too get busier. There’s always a spike in appointments at this time.

So if you think Christmas is both a “wonderful time of the year”, as well as a challenging one, you’re not alone.

Shopping for Christmas takes time and money, which can create stress. Putting up decorations takes time and can create stress. Cooking and baking for Christmas takes time and can add stress.

Going to parties or turning down parties and/or negotiating with your partner on what parties you’ll attend and how late you’ll agree to stay out – all this can create stress. So can a Grinch and a Christmas keener cause stress leading up to the big day.

Then there’s Christmas itself. That time when families reunite and some or all of the following transpires:

  • You fall into roles that you outgrew and suddenly you don’t feel yourself anymore, but just as suddenly, you feel an ever-increasing amount of anxiety
  • You don’t fall into the role you’re expected to slip back into, thus changing the implicit understanding you all had and therefore causing a general upset among all those concerned
  • Those not adopting their roles, and the rules that come with them, get pressured to return to their once normal ways and that pressure causes anxiety and conflict
  • The husbands, wives and partners of the core family begin to get annoyed at their partners for being people they don’t even recognize, thus creating additional stress and potential for conflict
  • Plus the husbands, wives and partners are stuck in this chaotic emotional maelstrom with people they never chose, which escalates their anxiety, stress and potential for conflict

Every family has a unique way of dealing with it all.

In my family, one sibling slept pretty much the entire time with the exception of meals. Another drank too much and would fly into rages. Another would be constipated from the moment she travelled to the family home to the moment she left. Then she’d struggle with diarrhea for days upon her return.

Through it all, my mom would go into denial and be blissfully happy that we were all together. I’d have killed for her rose-coloured coping mechanism, but instead mine was to overeat and oversleep. Thankfully their were some really, really good cookies on which to binge!

So let’s look at some general coaching tools on how to cope with stress and conflict during the holidays, followed by coaching advice for specific situations.

3 Best coaching tips of all time

I promise, if you can learn how to adopt the following three tools to managing both stress and conflict, you’ll cut down on drama over the entire course of your life. These tools can be used in countless situations, personal and professional, all year round.

1) Remember it’s temporary

Leading up to the holidays, and the holidays themselves, only lasts a couple of weeks. Keep reminding yourself of this every time you feel stressed or need to determine whether or not to enter into a conflict.

It even helps to count the days. Doing so helps to see the time as a discrete unit with a beginning and an end. Counting the days also keeps you focused on the end rather than being in the midst of it all.

Another benefit to reminding yourself that the holidays are temporary is that it works the other way around too. You can pay attention to, and savour, the good moments because they too won’t last. You may even find that, by doing so, you’ll focus more on those moments, feel less stress and become less reactive to every little thing.

Being aware of how temporary the holidays is a discipline that will serve you in countless situations through life.

It fosters a mindset that allows you to enjoy what you have more deeply and more frequently. You’ll also be more accepting when life brings losses big and small.

I have two friends who moved from a neighbourhood they loved to a brand new one far from what they had been accustomed to for 20 years+. Their new neighbourhood didn’t have easy access to their old friends, the restaurants and bars they frequented, or to the forest trails they used to love.

These two men are openly gay and married, and the neighbourhood wasn’t nearly as progressive as the one from which they moved.

In short, their lives had changed dramatically. But these two are resilient and very positive. They also grasp life’s impermanence.

So, in no time, they sought out the area’s gay bars. They began making friends. They made it easy for their old friends to visit. They became friendly with their neighbours and invited them to dinner.

Most important, they made a pact. They would recognize that this neighbourhood was different (rather than be in denial, which is not healthy), but their key word was “different”, not worse. Then they’d take a moment to acknowledge what they liked about their new place rather than compare it to their old place.

They made an amazing life for themselves. They now live in Spain. They started from scratch, in an entirely new country, with no friends at all and with no understanding of the language. Within the year, they were surrounded by friends and living their lives to the fullest.

Grasping impermanence can get you through life’s changes.

It can also help you through life’s great losses.

For the most part, I’ve always been someone who’s comfortable with change. I like fresh starts and, growing up, I welcomed new situations as a result. I was resilient because I enjoyed novelty and calculated risk. It wasn’t because I grasped life’s impermanence, however.

That lesson came with the death of a pet. I hadn’t had much loss up until then. Intellectually, I knew that pets die, but emotionally, I was ill prepared for the devastating grief of that first night without him. It was a physical, all-encompassing pain.

I didn’t think I’d be able to handle it. I couldn’t imagine feeling it for hours, days, weeks on end. I knew I had to do something to alleviate it.

That’s when I understood, “This will pass”. When the grief became crushing, I’d remind myself that in two days, it would lessen a little. Two days later, I’d push myself through by reminding myself that in two more days, it would lessen a little as well.

Eventually I’d tell myself “four days from now” then “a week from now”. Over time the pain lessened as it always does. While the pain subsided, the lesson of impermanence never did. I’m grateful for it. Over the years I’ve suffered other losses and I remind myself, “This will pass”.

Glib as this sounds, every time I cry, I note that tears stop and, no matter what, I feel a little better upon shedding them.

This holiday season, and for all time, remember that – for better or worse, nothing in life stays the same.

To recap:

  • Enjoy every single moment with your loved ones
  • Focus on how temporary those amazing moments are
  • Ride through the stressful moments by recognizing they’ll soon be over
  • Don’t get caught up in conflict unless they cover important issues

One of the most liberating insights I’ve ever had was that everything changes.

2) Ask yourself, “Is it worth it?”

One day, years ago, I was angry at a colleague. I really wanted to give it to him. I shared my feelings with a friend of mine and described how I was going to chew him out. She replied, “Before you say anything to him, ask yourself this: Do you want to get angry or do you want to resolve the problem?”

It was a great question and it’s one that has served me well for years. Sometimes you do just want to let off steam and you don’t care whether or not there’s a resolution.

Other times finding a solution to the conflict is what you want and/or what’s best to maintain open communication. This is especially true with people you have a long-term relationship with, be it personal or professional.

So over the holidays, if stress is getting to everyone and fights are breaking out, ask yourself if it’s truly worth getting involved with conflict.

  • If you have brother who likes to compete with you about your job or your weight – is it worth getting into?
  • If you have sister who hasn’t forgiven you for borrowing her clothes as a teenager, is it worth getting into it now?
  • If your spouse has an uncle who isn’t politically correct or an aunt who drinks too much or kids who are rude, is it worth trying to change their behaviour?
  • If your partner wants to stay longer at a party and you don’t, is it worth arguing about?

Sometimes when loved ones get together deeper and more serious unresolved conflicts come to surface that may be worth trying to revolve, but are the holidays the right time to approach them? Given the added stress of the season, perhaps there are better, quieter and less chaotic opportunities to deal with them. If there are, then wait.

By the way, my mom was a social worker and very insightful. She noticed an interesting phenomenon that happened to our family when the holidays came to a close. No matter how peaceful the stretch might have been (however rare that was!), when the time came to say good-bye, we’d inevitably break out into arguments.

She observed this between other loved ones as well.

Her hypothesis was that it was easier to say goodbye when angry than to say goodbye when you’re feeling happiness, connection and love. It’s a way to avoid loss and disappointment. I’ve since noticed it myself so she was definitely onto something.

So keep that in mind as holidays wind down and emotions wind up.

3) Use the “on a scale from 0 to 10” tool

I love cycling on a bike path by my place. But I have one big honking pet peeve – I really, really, really, really get pissy when joggers use it. There’s a pedestrian path right beside it where they’re supposed to run, but incomprehensibly, they feel entitled to jog where I’m cycling.


I used to notice it all the time. By the end of my ride, I’d be homicidal (not really, don’t worry). Eventually I began following my own advice, which is to ask yourself this, “On a scale from 0 to 10 where 10 is the absolute worst, then”:

  • How bad is it?
  • How important is it?
  • How evil are they? (when it comes to joggers on the bike path, I struggle with this one a little)

I’m nowhere close to being a math genius, but that tool has been brilliant at helping me put things in perspective and change my mindset.

So ask yourself, on a scale from 0 to 10:

  • How bad is it that your in-laws never reciprocate by having you over for dinner
  • How important is it that your uncle stop calling you by your nickname?
  • How evil are three-year old kids who get cranky

You can use the scale to help you determine the importance of compromise as well.

If you love a quiet evenings and your partner loves parties, then on a scale from 0 to 10, how important is it to you to stay home and deny your partner the fun? Conversely, how important is it to you to go out and deny your partner an quiet evening.

Maybe the party is worth a 10 in terms of its importance to your partner and a quiet evening at home is only worth 5 to you. In that case, would it hurt to compromise?

You can use the scale together and with other people in your life – in both personal and professional situations – to help you negotiate all kinds of situations fairly and diplomatically.

To summarize

The holiday season is a wonderful time of the year for many, but they aren’t without challenges. So remember:

  • The holidays are temporary. The good moments and the difficult moments won’t last. Savour the good while you can and rest assured that the conflicts will pass
  • Stop and think about the value, or lack thereof, in entering in or reacting to conflict and stress
  • Use the 0 to 10 scale to help you get a better perspective on situations

On a final note, enjoy the holidays!

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