Shopping lists. Last minute tasks to complete. Another card you forgot to send! Here is how to stop the mind spin, how to stress less and enjoy Christmas. Yes, sometimes sad and bad things do happen at Christmas, but how we think about the situation can add to our stress or diminish it. 

The sixth blog of this CHRISTMAS series by Val MullallyMan with Santa hat relaxing by clock

T is for Thought Minding 

Don’t you sometimes wish you could let go the Christmas stress and just relax and enjoy?

“But there’s so much to do!”

The thoughts we tell ourselves add to our stress.

We can ease the stress by noticing our thoughts, because negative, self-defeating thoughts erode our sense of well-being.

It’s often not so much the circumstances that stress us  – it’s our thoughts about the situation.

“I’ll never get this finished.” 

“The meal’s ruined.” 

“But aren’t our thoughts our thoughts?” you may be asking.

We often have ANTs – Automatic Negative Thoughts.

ANTs are thoughts that jump into our heads  – that we often react to without assessing them.  Negative thoughts can make us reactive, which can cause the other person to react. So our thoughts become self-fulfilling. The good news is we can change our thoughts, when we are aware.

How to Let Go Of Thoughts That Stress

Notice what you are actually saying.

Is it 100% true all the time?

Is this thought helpful or is it winding you up?

To let go of unhelpful thoughts, first we need to recognise them.

Can you spot any of these in your own thought patterns?

Automatic Negative Thoughts

Mind Reading ANTs*

“She’s deliberately trying to wind me up.” 

“He just wants everything his own way.”

We presume we can read the other person’s mind.

We think we know their intentions are “bad” or uncooperative.

Fortune Telling ANTs*

We predict the worst-case scenario outcomes.

“The day will be a disaster.” 

Acknowledge that thought is not true. Consciously rephrase the thought to something that builds hope.

“Even if everything doesn’t go smoothly we will still enjoy ourselves.” 

“Always” / “Never” Thinking ANTs*

“He’s always late.”  “I can never …”

These words add to our stress and disempower us.

Whenever we notice those words and test the truth of our thoughts, it can help us to gain a more realistic and helpful viewpoint.

“Always late?” If the thought is not true 100% of the time, then it’s not true.

What would be more accurate? “He’s often late” or “He’s sometimes late”.

Change your words for something that reduces your stress.

“Guilt”  ANTs*

These often sound like ‘I should have … ’  ‘I must…’ ‘I ought to …’   

“I must give them a three-course meal.” “I should order that gift online.”

These “guilt” ANTs need careful testing.

“I ought to be kinder to myself” – probably yes.

“I ought to be doing more” – probably no!

“Guilt” ants make us feel stressed.

Test to see if this guilt causes s a vague thought that just unsettles you without creating any helpful outcome, or if it’s nudging you to take helpful constructive action.

Righteous Judgement ANTs⁠1

We pass judgement on ourselves and on others, causing a sense of comparison and stress, often leading to unhappiness.

e.g. “good” / “bad” ; “right” / “wrong”

“She’s behaving badly”,  “I’m right.” 

Unless you’re talking about a legal or ethical issue, where there is a defintive right or wrong, recognise that the strong line of  “right” or “wrong” is generally stressful.

Find words that are more helpful.  Perhaps reword your thought as a question. What happens when you view the situation with compassionate curiosity?

I wonder what might be going on for her that she is behaving that way?”

“I wonder what leads him to think that way?” 

Inviting our thoughts and feelings into awareness allows us to learn from them rather than be driven by them.    Daniel J. Siegel

Change thoughts to change feelings and behaviour

If your children’s behaviour is challenging, minding your thoughts will help to calm your reactivity, which will impacts theirs. For helpful insights  and practical tips on how to respond rather than react to your children’s behaviour, see my book, “BEHAVE – What To Do When Your Child Won’t – the three pointers to mindful discipline”


What is the impact of my thoughts on myself and on others?

When I change my thoughts,

it changes my feelings,

which in turn impacts my body reaction

which in turn affects my behaviour,

Which in turn affects other people’s behaviour.

Our state of mind can turn even neutral comments into fighting words, distorting what we hear to fit what we fear.  Daniel J. Siegel

It’s not that we won’t still have difficult situations to face.  It’s how we respond to them, rather than negatively react to them,  that can lower our stress levels.

 Becoming more aware of the thoughts, feelings ands body sensations evoked by events gives us the possibility of freeing ourselves from habitual, automatic ways of reacting, so that we can, mindfully respond in more skilful ways. Mindfulness notes – Oasis Centre, Dublin

M is for Mindfulness in the next blog in this CHRISTMAS series.

When I change my thoughts it changes my feelings which in turn impacts my behaviourSo it’s over to you:

What ANTs do you spot in your inner talk?

Try rephrasing any ANT you spot with words that reduce your stress.

Notice the impact this has on your reactivity and on others.

*. These Automatic Negative Thought categories proposed by Henslin, Earl  “This Is Your Brain On Joy”, 2008, Thomas Nelson, USA

1.  Added category proposed by Val Mullally – Koemba Parenting

Last edited December 20th 2018

When Sad or Bad Things Happen At Christmas

Dear Santa

Remember this letter from a few years ago, when Ireland was covered in snow?

The elves found Jade’s three legged cat, Tripod, and showed her the way home.  She’d been lost for SEVEN weeks. The family was so happy to see her again.

But sometimes sad or bad things happen, that we can’t fix.

What would you like parents to know about that, Santa?



Dear PercyPostElf

I’m glad you asked, Percy. Christmas isn’t a happy time for many children, or their parents.  I imagine it can feel even worse, or more lonely, because everybody else seems happy.

As Parents we want our children to be happy. But I think it’s helpful to realize that we live in a 3D world. And in a 3D world there are shadows. Sadness is the shadow side of love – it’s part of the dimensionality of life. We often want to protect our children from the sad feelings they experience when something feels ‘not okay’.

We often try to jolly our children out of them, or make light of their ‘shadow’ emotions. We use expressions like ‘You’ll be fine,’ (or in Ireland they say ‘You’ll be grand.’) We start talking about something happier. This doesn’t make the sadness go away – it just makes it go underground.

What does help?

Imagine a beautiful Persian carpet. There are dark areas in the pattern. In fact, these add to the richness and beauty of the pattern. It’s like that with the pattern of life.

There are times when we can’t stop the ‘dark patches’ from happening, but we can help our children to make sense of them.  Otherwise they stay like tangled knots on the back of the rug. To help our children ‘untangle the knots’, we need to listen to their stories. To be present to what they need to say, we need to PARK our own stuff – our own opinions, our need to make it better. When we PARK we can CONNECT in a way that lets the child tell their own story. When the child is given the space to tell her own story and has it acknowledged, through your listening presence, she is able to untangle the knots and weave it into the fabric of her life.

A very practical book that I’d love to pop into every parent’s Christmas stocking  is ‘The Whole Brain Child’  by neuroscientist Daniel  J. Siegel and Tina Payne  Bryson.  A person’s mental well-being does not depend on whether bad things do or don’t happen to people, what makes the difference is whether they weave that into the fabric of their lives.

Parents can learn more about  what’s really needed to listen to their children from  the Koemba Parent Coaching blog articles. I think they’d especially find ‘Koemba- CONNECT’ helpful.

To Parents who are feeling ‘not okay’ this Christmas, I’d like to encourage them that strong emotions are like waves. They can feel huge and devastating at times but they will pass over. If you are  feeling overwhelmed with life at this point, pick up the phone and find help. There are people and organisations who want to be there for you. ‘This too shall pass.’

We let ‘Happy Christmas’ roll off our tongues, but for some people that’s not their reality. I wish we greeted each other with ‘Have a wonder-ful Christmas’, because, even when sad or bad things happen, we can experience the wonder of life in different ways.



P.S. Tomorrow I’ll be chatting about what to do when families experience conflict.


Day 1   What to do with Children’s ‘Great Expectations’?

Day 2  ‘Need’ or ‘Want’

Day 3  Dealing with Disappointment

Day 4  Christmas Surprises

Day 5  Three Key Questions Regarding Purchases

Day 6  No Money This Christmas

Day 7  Christmas is for Giving

Day 9  When Grown Ups Fight

Day 10 An Attitude of Gratitude

Day 11 Can’t Forgive

Day 12 Christmas – What Really Matters




Last edited December 07th 2018