7 ways to conquer holiday stress

(Story by Sharon Florentine originally appeared in CIO)

Conquering holiday stress
Workplace stress is a fact of life, especially in the always-on, world of IT. But the holiday season can add an extra layer of anxiety for many who already are stretched to the limit – but there steps you can take to mitigate it.

“For so many companies, this is the busiest time of year. But in addition to the heavier, more frenetic workload, there’s the expectation that people will be merry, jolly and having a lot of fun, and that’s an added stressor if you don’t feel that way,” says Laura Hamill, an organizational psychologist and chief people officer at Limeade, a workplace well-being and employee assistance company.

But you don’t have to stress out. Here are some ways to cope with the holiday grind.

Plan ahead
Make your to-do lists and then check them twice. Good planning can make all the difference when it comes to managing holiday stress, says Hamill. “Are there tasks you can complete earlier in the month, rather than later? Are you able to work ahead, or delegate, or even push certain requirements off until after the holidays? Proper planning — and then sticking to that plan — can help ease some of the pressure,” Hamill says.

Hand-in-hand with planning comes communication, adds Margot Dorfman, co-founder and CEO of the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce. “Make sure you have a solid schedule in place, especially when it comes to vacations and family obligations – who’s out of the office, when, and for how long? Who’s on-call during certain days? Plan these things out far in advance so there aren’t any surprises,” Dorfman says.

Financial pressures are brought into stark reality around the holidays, and that adds an additional stress factor, says Hamill. While it’s not necessarily work-related, your personal life can and does impact your work life (and vice versa) so it’s important to recognize.

“The additional financial burden people take on over the holidays — buying gifts, throwing parties, donating to charity — all takes a toll. Try and set a reasonable budget and stick to it so as not to get overwhelmed. Some organizations offer financial planning services for employees, so you should check that out if it’s an options,” Hamill says.

Once you’ve made your lists and taken into account everything you have to do personally and professionally, start to prioritize and be brutally realistic about what will and won’t get done, says Dorfman.

“Try and focus on the top five things you must accomplish between now and when the holidays end. You’re always going to have to make difficult choices about what’s most important and focus your energy there; you also can’t be afraid to say ‘No.’ Women, especially, are often too quick to agree to take on extra responsibilities, so think about it carefully,” Dorman says.

Could you attend one fewer holiday party? Ask family members to prepare and bring a dish to a holiday dinner to cut down on your own prep work? Can you have your office party at a restaurant instead of on-site? Get creative to see how you can remove stressors, Dorfman says.

Be good to yourself
Even if it’s just 30 minutes a day, schedule time for yourself, Hamill says. “Be thoughtful about sleep, about exercise, about how you’re expending your energy. You have to consider your own well-being first before you can tackle outside responsibilities,” she says.

Eating right is always a challenge, but the holiday season can make it seem almost impossible, adds Dorfman. But remember to stick to your regular meal times and healthy foods, though that doesn’t mean you can’t indulge in sweets or a few holiday cookies here and there. “Your body’s already under a lot of stress, so if you’re thinking, ‘Well, I had two pieces of cake at the office and I’ll just skip dinner,’ think again. Your body needs healthy nutrients to keep it fueled and running at its peak,” she says.

Reframe your thinking

Rethinking how you handle stress can work wonders, says Hamill. Just a simple shift in your mindset can mean the difference between conquering stress and accomplishing your goals or becoming a victim of stress. “I realized a couple years ago that I get to decide how I react to outside stimuli. For example, if I’m giving a presentation, I get very nervous and anxious. But I learned over time to reframe that and think, ‘I’m so lucky that I’ve been asked to do this — to share my passion and my knowledge with others,’ and while I’m still nervous, it really helps,” Hamill says.

There’s a “sweet spot” with stress, Hamill adds; a moderate amount at which your mind and body have just enough extra adrenaline to function at its absolute best. Try to reframe your thinking about stressors in a way that makes them seem like motivation and an added boost of energy — and see what you can achieve, she says.

Ask for help
Don’t be afraid to ask for help — the holidays are a stressful time for everyone, so make sure you’re communicating regularly and honestly with your managers, your direct reports and your colleagues, says Hamill. “Make sure everyone’s on the same page about priorities, timelines and deadlines; find out what’s causing stress and work together to find solutions,” she says.
Remember to be grateful
Finally, remember that the holidays are a time of celebration, and be thankful for what you have. “There’s a reason they’re called ‘first-world problems;’ if you’re worried about having too many parties to attend, too many gifts to purchase or how stressful your job is — take a few moments and remember that you are fortunate. You have so many opportunities and reasons to be thankful — try and keep it in perspective,” says Hamill.