It’s the most wonderful time of the year, but also the most stressful. December 1–7 marks National Anger Awareness Week and the blast-off of the festive season.

[Read more: What to eat to beat stress: 8 foods to eat to keep tensions at bay]

While you might be looking forward to putting your feet up in front of a log fire, with a nice glass of something, the reality is quite different.

Whether it’s dealing with rude relatives, hectic shopping trips, or getting the roast potatoes just right, Christmas is one of the hardest times to keep anger under control.

So how do we cope with the pressure to make this Christmas even better than the last?

“Anger always comes from fear of some kind, and the best way to combat that is to be prepared,” says stress expert and relationship counsellor Cat Williams, founder of Stay Calm and Content.

Here’s how not to blow your top this Christmas, from the build-up to the big day…

Walk away from stressful situations

Christmas means spending time with relatives you might not choose to see for the rest of the year. Avoid lashing out at those who trigger your insecurities by criticising you, your cooking, or gift choices.

Exiting the situation means you do not have to respond. Cat says: “As soon as your heart rate goes up, your fight or flight reaction is triggered. As soon as you notice that, it’s about remembering you have a choice about how you respond. It’s about walking away.”

Get some fresh air

The cold weather and constant flurry of social events means it’s easy to stay cooped up inside over Christmas, but don’t. Cat advises coming up with a strategy: “Speaking personally, I know I’m not great if I spend the whole day indoors. If you know you are going to need a walk in the fresh air, then just do it. Just say ‘I’m off now.’ If you need your time away, get it.”

Find a little sanctuary

It may sound silly, but the loo can be a place of sanctuary. It offers the ideal escape from difficult, angering situations, particularly in family conflict. Don’t storm off in a huff. Cat says: “Say you just need to pop to the loo, something innocuous that doesn’t create an issue.” She calls it “toilet seat therapy."

“When you need to step away, the only place you might be allowed or able to be on your own is to shut that toilet door.” Take a few minutes to give yourself a break from the conflict. “You’ll step back out in a more positive manner.”

Acknowledge that stress is a choice

“The first thing to acknowledge is stress is a choice,” says Cat. Anger comes with a degree of personal responsibility, even if it is triggered by external factors. When something upsets you, there are two possibilities.

“We can either think ‘right, when they say that I’m going to jump on them because I don’t care’ – that’s the kind of Christmas that just explodes – or we can say is that the kind of Christmas I want?”

Be kind to yourself

Be sure to make time to do things you enjoy, whether that’s reading a book, watching a film or going for a run. Spend some time alone: without the pressure to be sociable, you can relax. It’s only Christmas after all.