Replace "should" with "could" to stay upbeat when you miss big family events

| Share

By psychologist Jane Dodding

With Christmas looming rapidly, it's time to start getting organised and planning for what is a major event of the year for many. For others though it is not a big deal and for some it can be quite stressful and emotionally difficult. There are many expectations and often romanticised ideals of how this day should be, and when the reality doesn’t live up to these expectations it can be emotionally tough.

Be aware of your thinking

You might have noticed a powerful word in there … how this day "should" be. Thinking this way often causes problems because it is definite, a fixed view, and doesn’t leave much room for flexibility for it to be anything else. We believe any other way is not right and our minds have a tendency to keep thinking about how it "should" be and our emotions follow our thinking. "I should be with my family, being apart is not fair, this is terrible, we should all be together and having fun on Christmas Day." It’s understandable that if we think this way we will feel angry, frustrated or down. The first step in changing how you feel is to be aware of what your mind is telling you – what are you thinking? It can be helpful to write your thoughts down and take note if "should" is in your thinking.

Get psychologically flexible

If Christmas isn’t or can’t be the way your mind is telling you it should be, you have an opportunity to practise being psychologically flexible – to adapt to the situation as it is, to make room for a different experience other than the one you had in mind, and to shift perspective. Consider what other experiences you could have in this situation? 

Replace the "should" with "could". How could you respond to this situation? Generate as many alternate responses as you can. How would you like to be? If it doesn’t have to be a certain way, how else could you respond? A few examples are:

  • I could be sad and withdrawn
  • I could be grateful I have a family I want to be with
  • I could be happy I don’t have do what is expected and socialise with people we don’t usually see
  • I could enjoy having time to myself and relaxing
  • I could be thankful to have two Christmases, one with my family while I am home and one with the people at work who are also away from home
  • I could be angry and irritable
  • I could enjoy entertaining the crew

You choose how you would like to be.

Plan your day

Once you have decided how you want to respond to being away, plan your day with that in mind. How else could Christmas be other than what is expected or how you thought it should be. Again replace the "should" with "could" and generate alternatives. How can you make it fun wherever you are, no matter who you are with or even if you are alone?

One thing that is well known to enhance our happiness and sense of wellbeing is to be connected and feel a sense of belongingness.

When planning this Christmas, I’d suggest you consider how you are going stay connected with those at home and those at work with you. What could you do? Below are a few suggestions:

  • I could dress up as Santa and give everyone a laugh
  • I could have Christmas on another day with my family
  • I could treat myself and colleagues and take some of my favourite food to share
  • I could take reindeer antlers for all my work mates to wear and bonbons for everyone
  • I could take a Christmas elf with me and take pictures of it in different situations and randomly send them to the family during the day

There is no right or wrong. Choose what will help you and others to stay upbeat and connected. Our minds can be rigid at times and convince us things have to be a certain way, but when we are aware of this we can consciously challenge those thoughts, get imaginative and make helpful choices.

Wishing you a wonderful Christmas and a fun-filled 2017!

To read other columns written by our psychologists, please click here. And remember that we offer a free email Q&A service with our psychologists, so just click here to ask a question about relationships, parenting or your career.

All advice on Mining Family Matters is for general information only and should never be regarded as a substitute for professional health services or crisis services. To talk with a trained volunteer telephone counsellor at any time of the day or night, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. To contact the info line at beyondblue: national depression initiative, phone 1300 22 4636.

Jane Dodding is a psychologist and director with MindsPlus, a group of psychologists and other mental health workers who came together in 2007 to provide support to people living and working in rural and remote regions of Australia. For further information about MindsPlus, contact 1300 312 202 or visit