Navigating festive challenges with expert insights from Niki Saks

Christmas is the time of the year when family, friends and work colleagues get together to enjoy festive gatherings. The thing is that many people in the same room don’t get along, in fact, they may even dislike each other immensely. How do you manage a situation like this?

According to Niki Saks, leading health and wellness expert and author of the bestselling book, ‘Hiding in the Open: Living Sensitively’, the festive season is often not so festive a season because people lose their cool and patience having to socialise with people with whom they just don’t fit.

“Attending social occasions with people you don’t get along with or have trouble tolerating can be a challenge, that we all face. Mind-altering substances and stress can certainly amplify tension during get-togethers. This is one of the many reasons why emotional distress and the annual disagreements happen over the Christmas period,” Saks said.

“There are however ways that you can have a good time without any unexpected situations having an impact on your relationships and your possible career opportunities!

“By applying some incredibly simple and effective practical steps to ground yourself, you will feel more in control of interacting with those difficult people. I strongly urge that you mentally prepare to support yourself if and when the time comes. Mental wellness starts with you.”

Having been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder herself, Saks is particularly empathetic towards those who struggle and she has equipped herself with tools to manage difficult situations and people.

Saks outlines some simple tips to manage difficult social situations over the holiday season.

 Mentally prepare yourself.

“Breathe. Keep your expectations realistic. Look back at past events and play this movie forward in your mind; you know how it has ended at previous gatherings, be prepared for a rerun,” Saks said.

“Knowing this, and ensuring that you stay level-headed, will assist you in enjoying the event as much as possible.”

Read the room.

“Breathe. When it comes to resolving situations, especially with family, take stock of what’s happening.  If there is alcohol in the mix or other elements that may affect the way people are behaving, take this into consideration. Set a clear boundary of what you will not tolerate; don’t try and fix them/it/the past at this point,” Saks emphasised.

“Stay focused on getting through the event and enjoying yourself. Heavy, difficult, or important conversations are best kept for another time, especially when late in the day at the event. Keep things light, friendly, and positive.

“Be engaging and ask others to talk; often people are comfortable talking about themselves. This will divert them from other, more sensitive topics.”

Value yourself

“Breathe. Understand that your needs are important too and know your value, especially when words directed at you may be hurtful. This may be hard in the moment but dig deep, we fundamentally know when we are being disrespected and no one deserves that,” Saks said.

Stay contained!

“Breathe. Contained means together; try to be firm but always stay kind and do your utmost to not get emotional. If this happens it could seem as if the people concerned have got the better of you,” Saks said.

“Try your best to not take the situation personally or allow yourself to be drawn into any difficult conversations or arguments. How? Imagine yourself on the outside looking in at the proceedings; detached completely from the whole situation unfolding. This method will help you stay neutral and above any issues. It may be hard at first but it is essential that for your own wellness, you find the most accessible way to stay calm and in control.

“Remember to breathe and think of things that make your soul fill to keep your mind focused. Perhaps try and focus your eyes on something in the space that helps you make a mental diversion from the moment. There are many mindful ways you can help yourself to disengage and stay cool.”

Take a step back.

“Breathe. Be willing to walk away and remove yourself from that situation, get some air. Take care of yourself first, breathe deep and commend yourself for doing the work. This builds self-esteem,” Saks said.

“Removing yourself from an environment that is unhealthy, negative, or toxic is important for your own self-esteem and mental health. It also allows you the time and space to regain your composure to be able to get through the event without being drawn into any ugly incidents.

“Move away to use your phone, step outside for a breath of fresh air, head over to the other side of the room to chat with different people, get a bite to eat at the food table or grab a lavatory break for a quick touch-up. We hold our breath during stressful times and it works against us so remind yourself to take a breath, I promise it will help you to take stock and keep your mood in check.”

About Niki Saks

Niki Saks is a wellness coach and accomplished entrepreneur with over four decades of experience in the fields of nutrition, fitness, and life skills. She has dedicated her career to promoting mental well-being and open dialogue around mental health challenges. Niki’s book, ‘Hiding in the Open: Living Sensitively’, is an honest exploration of her own journey with borderline personality disorder, offering hope and inspiration to others facing similar challenges with mental illness. Born in South Africa, Niki splits her time between the breathtaking landscapes of Cape Town and the vibrant energy of Sydney, Australia.