December should be a month of indulgence and happiness -- so why is it always a time of conflict and drama? Laura Oates, behavioral psychologist at Harley Therapy in London, tells us how to not have a mental breakdown this season.


Sorry, Christmas is not a Kodak moment.

"We're expected to believe that as if by magic, we're all going to get on famously. We all wish we had a loving family that peacefully opened their presents on Christmas Day, but in reality, you all wake up late, moody and hungover. Make the best of what you've got and you won't feel so cheated. If things go horribly wrong -- well, it only lasts a few day."


Don't be afraid to lower your expectations.

"You may be under a lot of pressure to return to a family dynamic you've outgrown. [You may no longer] be the one who always showed up with gifts for everyone and woke up at 6 a.m. to peel the potatoes. If you don't want to get sucked back into the role you're expected to have, explain yourself so that those who usually rely on you aren't frightened by you turning up in a different guise."


Have an attitude of gratitude.

"The holidays can be a time of forced bonding and jollity, but rather than dwell on all the bad stuff, think about what you're thankful for. Yes, you might feel like punching Auntie Phyllis by the time she's had her third whiskey, but if you remind that you only have to spend one day a year with her, you'll have more patience."


Pretend you're still at work.

"What makes you more effective at work can help you save time and beat stress at home. [Use] time management skills: salami-slicing is time-consuming, so do that first. If your sister is a bully, deal with her assertively."

Don't trash your bod.

"Put too many demands on your body and you will end up running on adrenalin, which can cause up to 60 percent of your cognitive powers to be taken away from you. You can lose sleep and concentration -- now try planning something! Look after your body and it will look after your mind. Don't expect it to take you to loads and loads of parties."