6 tips for coping with holiday stress as an expat in Czechia

The holidays are a time for joy, but can be stressful, too. We spoke to a communication expert on how to deal with the less joyful side of the season.

 William Nattrass

Written by William Nattrass Published on 22.12.2022 20:35:00 (updated on 23.12.2022) Reading time: 6 minutes

Many of us feel pressure to make the festive season “perfect.” From cooking a flawless Christmas dinner to enjoying an unforgettable New Year celebration, high expectations, of ourselves and of others, tend to cause strong emotions. 

In the workplace, end-of-the-year stress can lead to co-workers saving time where it really matters most: in good, empathetic, and patient communication. Unease in interpersonal relationships, between couples, families, friends, business partners, and work colleagues as well as intergenerational tensions only heighten the demands of the Christmas period.

This time of year can be particularly hard on multicultural relationships. Homesickness, differing traditions, and problems in communication can all cause stress. To find out how people can solve and discuss interpersonal issues during this festive period, Expats.cz spoke to Mirella Kreder, owner of Consult & Resolve, a professional international mediator based in Prague.

1 Be sensitive to cultural differences

Christmas is steeped in unique traditions and rituals, and expats can find it alienating when they experience festive customs which they don’t understand. It’s therefore important to reflect on whether cultural differences are fueling personal disputes. Even humor, often considered as a tool to relax situations, needs to be understood in the right cultural context.

Intercultural sensibilities aren’t just a vital part of communication among family and friends. They’re also key in many modern workforces, and they form the basis for building resilient international bridges. Kreder, who recently returned from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where she held a training to help local community leaders master strong emotions, said: 

“Things tend to get blamed on an individual person and their character. I’ve resolved cases in just a few hours of mediation though, where the parties realized that their dispute was actually based on a cultural misunderstanding. Actions and attitudes which you struggle with may in fact be down to another person’s sociocultural heritage, values, mindset, and context. Also, verbal or non-verbal language barriers play a role. Trying to understand this doesn’t necessarily mean agreeing with it, but it can help you deal with it better.”

2 Stay in touch with loved ones

Homesickness can be a serious problem for expats around Christmas. According to Kreder, it can act as a spur to flare up unhealthy interpersonal dynamics, which then add to the already perceived stress over the holiday period.

“People who are homesick can get in an emotional bubble of feeling sad and frustrated, and they can end up blaming those around them,” says Kreder. “Here it can be helpful to distinguish between the situation itself and the emotions it stimulates within us.”

Recognizing that others aren’t accountable for your feeling of homesickness is important. And it’s in our own power to actively create situations that make us feel more comfortable. Given the advances in communications made possible by technology, it can be comforting, as a way of mitigating homesickness, to keep in touch with absent loved ones.

“It’s important to find methods of self-care and create an environment that makes you happier. In this age of technological possibilities, for example, a virtual Christmas dinner reunion can be a great emotional support, and pretty good fun,” Kreder points out. “Why not give it a try?” 

3 Understand and master your emotions

According to Kreder, people can feel trapped by their emotions, neglecting or underestimating their own power to change and improve their mindset and inner response. But she says that emotions are there for a reason; to tell us something we need to understand and while she doesn't suggest controlling them, she does say we can learn to manage negative ones.

"People may feel that they are ruled by their emotions and surrender to their immediate stress response," Kreder says. "All of this happens inside you, and it won’t help to make others responsible for the way you feel. Own your feelings. Many conflicts in relationships arise when people put pressure on the other person to make them feel happy.”

“Owning up” to your emotions is, of course, not easy and very different from person to person. That’s where Consult & Resolve comes in; Kreder coaches and trains the personal and soft skills needed to take responsibility for your own mental and emotional well-being, and develop healthy and at the same time authentic responses.

4 Avoid negative conflict

It seems counter-intuitive amid the pressure to enjoy a perfect Christmas, but remember that not all types of conflict are bad. A difficult conversation can clear the air, clarify problems, and uncover solutions.

According to Kreder, negative conflict should be avoided or de-escalated effectively, in order to reduce unnecessary stress. This can mean not blaming others for situations and related feelings for which they are not responsible.

Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

-Viktor Frankl, Austrian psychiatrist

When it comes to ideas of “injustice,” people tend to think about themselves most, with less consideration for how the situation is perceived by the other. But seeing both sides can help. “It’s not about the conflict itself; it’s about how well you are able to manage it and how you use it, either for constructive or destructive results,” she says.

5 Consider coaching

Coaching offered by Consult & Resolve can help prevent interpersonal problems from arising. Kreder helps individuals and organizations to work with emotions as a substantial part of everyday business, and to better understand difficulties in relationships or conflicts which we often struggle with within ourselves. 

“It all starts within us, with knowing ourselves well. Even if only one person changes some key parts of their behavior and response, the entire dynamic of a relationship and the whole situation can change,” Kreder says. “In such cases, mediation may not be necessary, because coaching can help you handle negative conflict through self-awareness.”

6 Talk to a mediator

When the situation is already muddled, however, coaching alone may not help. In such circumstances, mediators can come in as neutral third parties to bridge the divide. All parties to mediation have to participate willingly, though according to Kreder, contact is often initiated by a single party reaching out. 

“Interaction is at times treated like a battle, when actually it should be considered a dance. Everyone comes with their own wants and needs, and they clash from time to time. That’s completely normal. But we make our interactions more smooth once we learn to cater not only to our own needs, but also consider those of others. In a dispute, we might find it difficult to put our ego aside and truly listen to one another. This is, however, key to being able to come to mutually satisfactory solutions. Involving a mediator can do wonders here.”

Kreder mediates disputes of various kinds, online and in person, from workplace, voluntary couple or family counseling to court-ordered interventions, disputes over child custody and even child abduction.

She also offers consultancy to businesses and organizations dealing with tense team situations or internal controversies, in the form of conflict and relationship management, coaching, and moderation to de-escalate destructive situations.

Sometimes, communication can seem good from the outside, but if you dive deeper you discover that the parties for different reasons never really ‘talk’. They don’t try to truly understand each other, and they respond to triggers which they might not even be aware of.”

“A good mediator should see not just the tips of these separate ‘icebergs’, but together with the parties, dive under the surface of each of them. What we find beneath are our interests, values, emotions, triggers, cultural differences; and somewhere down there, hidden from view and overshadowed by external positions, usually all parties have something in common.”

“In mediation, the challenge is to identify the overlap; the common points of interest, wants or needs. And once you find them, and from my experience you always do, together you will work your way back up to a level where consensual solutions surface, in an environment where deep, as opposed to superficial, communication can take place.”

This article was written in cooperation with Mirella Kreder, Consultandresolve.com. Read more about our partner content policies here.

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