Stress-Relief Strategies for the Holidays
Maybe it’s just me, but I find the line, “Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse,” almost as unbelievable as Old St. Nick himself in the poem, “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” In theory, I love the holidays. Gifts, spiked egg nog, parties… what’s not to like? But in reality, it’s the time of the year that also brings on the stress — big time.
I don’t buy that there’s a house on Christmas Eve where no one is scrambling with last-minute wrapping, baking or pre-vacation work projects. And I know I’m not alone. “This time of year many people experience the double whammy of end-of-the-year deadlines combined with holiday pressures,” says Marie Wetmore, career, performance and management coach for women at Lion’s Share Coaching. “Women tend to be especially stressed this time of year because they do most of the holiday season's planning and preparation.”
Burnout is common in today's busy work climate — especially during the holidays, adds Wetmore. Defined as “persistent emotional exhaustion, physical fatigue and cognitive weariness,” by the American Psychological Association, burnout is more real than Santa Claus this time of year.
But it doesn’t have to be. These four antidotes will help you beat burnout, so you can truly have a happy holiday.
Take a Day Off
One of the biggest misconceptions by those who experience burnout is the idea that taking time for self-care somehow makes you a "bad" employee, says Wetmore. “In fact, the opposite is true — taking care of yourself on a personal level is actually a service to your employer,” she says. “Since stress negatively impacts your relationships and decreases your ability to think effectively, it's clear that stressed people are less effective at their jobs. While, people who manage their stress well perform better at work.”
Think about it: Would you rather see the CEO of your company stressed out, frazzled and making decisions in a jittery state — or calm, collected and thinking clearly? You want the person in charge to work well under pressure, which means practicing self-care. And this mindset works for everyone on the job, including you. So take a personal day and rejuvenate yourself so you can bring your best self back to work. You'll be a better professional for it.
Ever notice how many holiday songs are about hooking up? From “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” to “Christmas in Harlem,” it’s more than the mistletoe that’s getting people together this time of year. In fact, scientists would approve. There’s a lot of evidence to show that getting physical with your partner improves your ability to cope with stress, depression and burnout. One recent Princeton University study found that regular “pleasurable” activity can have the same stress-buffering effect as indulging in sweets or other high-caloric comfort foods, reducing the level of stress hormone, but — bonus! — you’ll feel better after since you’re burning calories instead of overindulging in them.
Get Ohm With It
According to Wetmore, another way to reboot this time of year is to practice your ohms. “You might also consider working some mind-body techniques into your life,” she suggests. “Yoga classes and guided meditation are wonderful for relaxing the mind and body.”
In a study of medical students at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center (think: really, really stressed out subjects), those who practiced meditation techniques experienced lower levels of strain or distress and enhanced their performance at the same time. Another study, on teachers, also showed that meditation helped them to reduce their feelings of stress and burnout over the course of a school year.
University of California, Davis, researchers may have a physiological explanation for the effects of mindfulness on the body. It appears that training people to consciously focus on the present and not let their mind drift into the minefield of what ifs (hello, company holiday party with the senior partners) keeps the stress hormone cortisol within safer limits.
Women bear the brunt of the never-ending holiday to-do list — cooking, shopping, decorating — and the consequences aren’t pretty. “Stress affects you emotionally, making you more cranky and impatient. And what boss likes a crabby team member?” asks Wetmore. Stress affects your ability to think, making you more distracted, less focused, and less able to think abstractly.
Help prevent burnout this season by scaling back on the commitments and organize your to-do lists. Put the most important priorities at the top, then delegate the ones at the bottom to someone else or even put them off until after the new year. “Remember all those times you've stared at your computer with your mind all over the place — everywhere but on your work? That was probably stress,” says Wetmore.
Finally, banish the old “perfect holiday” scenario from your mind. Go online to shop, rather than confront the hordes at the stores. Host a potluck holiday dinner, rather than a full-course shebang. You get the idea. Sometimes it’s a lot easier to eat, drink and be merry if you don’t have the prepare the whole meal yourself.