The holiday season is meant to be a time of happiness and excitement, and for some, it is a time of high stress with tight deadlines, overtime hours, and social exhaustion. These pressures impact all areas of our lives, but most significantly our work-life balance and job performance. According to a 2015 Healthline survey, 44% of people say that they are stressed during the holidays, with more than 18% reporting that they’re “very stressed.” While it can be difficult to combat tensions and keep productivity and enthusiasm up during the holidays, there are ways to keep your spirits up! Here are a few tips to avoid seasonal stress and enjoy holiday cheer:
1. Set Realistic Goals: The holidays are jam-packed with busy schedules, festivities, and end-of-the-year deadlines. At this busy and popular time of year, we tend to lose sight of our goals and overlap our personal and work energies. Setting realistic timelines and pacing ourselves to meet goals and deadlines is crucial with so much going on. Clarity of focus is a necessary asset. When setting a critical work or personal deadline, ensure the timeline for fulfillment is feasible. Setting a deadline when you have multiple social events in one week is usually a bad idea. Additionally, it is essential to document goals and timelines. If you don’t put it in writing, you are bound to forget! Our team smiles and often says, “If it’s not written down, it won’t happen!”
2. Balance the good and bad: Your brain is wired to focus on the negative, and those negative emotions can be heightened around the holidays as we feel increased workload stress and are swamped with a plethora of social activities. When stress overwhelms us, it is easy to forget that we – yes, we – get to choose our approach. Remember, you can control how you engage with anything in life – you create your own neural pathways! Catch yourself when you slip into negative feelings, and notice when your mind starts going down the wrong path– the thought path that will not serve you! Being conscious allows you to change your neural pathways and rewire your brain. The moment you become aware, stop, reframe your thoughts, and make a change, everything changes. When you begin feeling stressed, take a moment to reframe and rewire. It is so worth it and only takes 15 seconds!
3. Reserve personal time: During the holidays, financial pressure might also play a role in your decisions. Before year end, you may you feel like you need to work overtime to meet financial goals, leading to late nights compiled with social exhaustion from holiday fun. If you’re sleep-deprived or not getting proper nutrition, you’re more likely to succumb to the negative effects of holiday stress. During the holidays, it is even more important to take care of yourself. When you are under stress and malnourished, your brain can’t properly regulate emotions leading to increased tension. Pre-block your personal time for self-care, like walking or working out. If you have vacation time accrued, this may be the time to request a few days off. Pay attention to your own self-care. If you and/or others are noticing a decrease in work productivity or quality or if your performance or communication at work is unusual, your body may be telling you to rest, rebalance your personal and workload, and recover.
4. Appreciate what you already have: This time of year is the best time of year to reflect and appreciate all you have in your life. Every holiday is a gift; take a second to stop and appreciate your life, the people in it, and your “why” (your purpose)! Practice appreciation by taking a moment be grateful each morning before beginning work. As Zig Ziglar so famously said, “Take a moment to give yourself a “check-up from the neck up” and “create an attitude of gratitude!” Write down three things you appreciate in the moment and when you start feeling overwhelmed, remind yourself of your “why.”
LEADERSHIP TAKEAWAY: Two great things about holiday stress are: 1) the stress is temporary and 2) it is usually predictable! Make plans to proactively calm your seasonal stress. With self-awareness, you can reduce negative neural pathways and create thoughts and feelings that serve you. Additionally, by setting priorities, reflecting on gratitude, and taking care of yourself, you are bound to dodge the holiday blues!
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Dr. Cheri Rainey is the CEO/Founder of Rainey Leadership Learning, partnering with leaders to support the entire employee life cycle.