Family tension at some point over the Christmas period is a natural consequence of bringing family members of all ages together, particularly at a time when levels of emotion are high. For many of us the festivities can be exhausting, overwhelming and frustrating as we try to manage the expectation of a magical and heartwarming Christmas and deal with the reality and the inevitable stress. Techniques that focus on awareness of emotions and bodily sensations in the present moment are generally found to effectively reduce stress. However, in this unprecedented year of political turmoil and fallout the potential stress and charged emotions that the Brexit vote may bring to the Christmas dinner table will create additional unchartered challenges.
The vote to leave the EU has divided the nation causing generational, geographical and cultural splits within communities and families, many of whom will be coming together for the first time this Christmas. The opposing arguments for voting for or against Brexit are impassioned and unyielding. Those who did not vote are also embroiled in the turmoil, needing to defend the legitimacy of their decision-making and their contribution to this historical outcome.
The thought of having to manage the fallout from an impromptu or simmering Brexit debate between family members over Christmas is an unnerving prospect. For some it may simply be too daunting and plans may have been put in place to avoid bringing certain friends or members of the family together. Others may feel that a ban on any Brexit discussions may be sufficient to prevent any uncomfortable or difficult situations whilst some people may be relishing the thought of a ferocious or healthy debate on the complex trade, austerity, and immigration issues.
The expression of intense emotions may feel unmanageable, especially at Christmas, if discussions get heated, distorted, hostile, personal, extreme or unpalatable. As a Clinical Psychologist I encourage the use of a mindful approach. Recognising and understanding our feelings and emotional triggers is key to regulating the impact of our emotions. Becoming aware of the physiological sensations in the body caused by our interpretations of thoughts and feelings is essential and focusing on breathing can help to gently guide our responses.
Adopting an authentic listening style is a mindful technique that involves truly listening to each other and reflecting on the meaning and the significance of each other's viewpoint. Asking pertinent questions and listening to the answers in full, whilst resisting the urge to respond straightaway, conveys a respectful and thoughtful communication style. The sense of being properly listened to can soften hostility and reduce the risk of family rifts that can be difficult to resolve.
Responding to anger with anger can increase the volatile nature of the discussion and creates a more rigid position. In contrast, demonstrating a genuine interest can be a useful calming technique and can foster deeper understanding and compassion for opposing political and personal beliefs that are based on that person's past experiences and personal values. The acceptance that people, on all sides of the Brexit debate, made their decisions based on best intentions and a genuine hope of wanting the best for themselves, their families and their communities creates a solid and compassionate foundation for discussion.
This Christmas it will be incredibly important to search for the common ground and the elements of humanity that connect and define us to prevent family rifts from developing. Irrespective of our standpoints the majority of us can agree on our key values and principles of caring for others. Ultimately, difficult conversations can provide us with a unique opportunity to learn, understand and reflect on our own experiences, perceptions, fears, beliefs and values. Much of the debate has been based on the need for political and societal change and hopefully this Christmas will provide us with a sense of connection, peace, compassion and space to reflect on our concerns and personal values that will enhance our resilience to manage uncertainty - and bring us all closer to each other.