'Christmas with my large family is a nightmare. Everyone fights and there are always tears. What can I do to stay cheerful amid the mayhem?' T.
Step 1: Christmas can often end up more fraught than fraternal. Families thrust together, engorged with excitement, can rapidly disintegrate into irrelevant arguments and weary recriminations. One way to manage all this intensity is to accept that family life always has the potential to be tempestuous and enjoy it for what it really is: a rare opportunity to laugh, fight, reminisce, irritate, provoke, tickle and love each other.
Step 2: If we acknowledge that there is no such thing as the perfect family, we can also accept that there is no such thing as the perfect Christmas. Take a tender look at these, your closest relatives, and focus on each familiar face for a few moments. Remind yourself of the good times you've had and think of one thing you really love about them, then let them know it.
Step 3: If a fight breaks out, remember that this is what happens in families. They rarely mean anything more than a regression into the ascribed roles of our past, which no longer exist in reality. If really bad things have happened, then be compassionate with yourself and those involved: staying in the present is healing. Emotions are often heightened at this time of year when there is pressure to be seen to be having a good time. If you are struggling, ask for help. A kind word or deed usually makes all the difference. If you see someone else struggling, offer your support freely a gesture this simple could transform the way in which you relate in the future.
Step 4: Finally, remind yourself that this is an annual ritual, it doesn't last long and there is so much good that can come from it. This is your family, for better or worse. They love you and you love them, which is why you are all bundled into an overheated house with an overcooked goose and an overloaded fir tree. It's Christmas and whether you believe or not, it's a marvellous time of year to reconnect with your unique family life.
If you are feeling despair this Christmas, you can contact The Samaritans on 08457 909 090.
And finally, happy Christmas and thank you so much for all your letters, support and kindness over the past year.