By LifestyleDr Karen Phillip, Counselling Psychotherapist


A COVID Christmas may be very different. Many of us will be able to get together in person while others will be estranged, missing those family members in other states of lockdown or perhaps limited in numbers allowed to attend.

Those of us connecting in person will have family members that have breezed through COVID while others who have struggled with work issues, financial difficulties, relationship pressures and mental health issues. This Christmas is going to be different.

We want to be excited and happy; we want to relax and enjoy, but with so many expectations upon us, concerns of safety, presents to purchase, credit card at its limit and family members visiting; it can get exceedingly difficult to manage.

We just want to stop, relax, see who I want and avoid those I don’t. But we are a family, how can I do this or is it yet another year of turning up, smiling, tolerating, kissing and saying goodbye till next year?

Normally we have to deal with the financial spending, planning, enjoying or tolerating family members we see only once a year, excited kids and very early mornings. Then we have the shopping, preparation, cooking, and cleaning up while praying the guests will pitch in to help instead of sitting enjoying an over indulgence of food and alcohol.

How will we connect this Christmas?

Instead of the usual festivities, many will be celebrating from afar, over zoom or via phone hook-up. Our family gathering may be very distinctive in 2020.One of the main aspects of a family Christmas get together is to accept and understand each individual person’s perspective of what they have experienced during this challenging year. With such an array of stories, some good, others disturbing or heartbreaking, we need to be prepared for a vast array of emotions midst the enjoyment of getting together.

How do we deal with the stress of not being personally present?

For those unable to attend the family get together, setting up a screen, tablet or device at the table so we can enjoy a meal, talk and laugh together. They (or we) can be part of the gift opening and all the excitement normally experienced, even if away from the festivities.

When speaking to our family members, regardless if in person or over a screen, a variety of emotions will be witnessed. When a family member seems to be struggling, we simply listen. We do not tell them what they should think or do, we never tell them how lucky they are as this may send them into a spiral because we really cannot fully understand precisely what it is they may be going through.

We listen, we ask questions, we empathise, we agree, before we offer suggestions on what they may be able to do to help them feel better. Remaining in contact regularly is often welcomed because on the lead up to Christmas we are all often so busy we lose touch with those who may need us most as it can help the isolated person feel worthy, wanted and thought of, which is so vital for our mental and emotional health.

It is unhelpful to react to stressful interactions. When we react, we engage behaviour and voice before brain. This is dangerous and often damaging to our relationships. When we become snappy, mean or intolerant of others, a decline in behaviour and relationship occurs.

When enjoying the festivities with family members at home, helpful responses to any interesting behaviour include

  • Taking a moment to consider what the other person did or said that may annoy you
  • Take a relaxing deep breath, walk away for a moment or two, reassess and consider the reason they may have said or done what they did and then respond if you must, engaging brain before mouth or action
  • Thanking them for sharing their thoughts so the other person feels validated and heard rather than dismissed. It does not mean you place any credence on what they said, and you can dismiss it as sad or unnecessary before getting on with your celebration and fun.

When liquor flows too freely, so can opinions and language with things being said that can’t be unsaid. Making a choice limit the amount of alcohol particularly if the kids are around or if there may be tension with some family members.

In regard to the kids, making sure they have some quiet time throughout the day can benefit everyone. When the kids become loud, obnoxious, angry, we often react as well. Providing some water drinks rather than lots of sugary soda, giving them fruit instead of too much rich sweet foods and having them watch a quiet show, can help them and you.


LifestyleDr Karen Phillip is a Counselling Psychotherapist and Clinical Hypnotherapist who runs a busy practice on the lovely Central Coast of NSW. Karen is a regular on television, radio and in print media. She is the author of 3 books including her latest book Communication Harmony.






For those wanting to eliminate all drama and conflict from every conversation with everyone, please have a read of Communication Harmony, it can change your life.