Let’s Welcome the Holiday Season—Not the Holiday Stress

A female employee overcome with holiday stress holds her head in frustration while wrapping holiday gifts.

The holidays are supposed to be a time for you and your employees to relax and recharge with family and friends.

And for the most part they are. But the holidays can also be a time of incredible stress and pressure.

Employees are expected to attend extra social gatherings—even when they’re exhausted. They’re expected to provide gifts for their friends and family—even when they’re already under financial strain.

In a survey of 2,000 American adults in 2019, 77% of respondents said they found it hard to relax during the holidays, and usually end up more stressed out and worn down than they were before. That same survey found 56% of respondents cite the financial burden as their biggest source of anxiety; 35% cited stressful family events.

Incredibly, 88% of respondents called the winter holidays the most stressful time of the year—and 84% said the stress starts in November.

Despite the prevalence of holiday stress, the hope—and expectation—is that everyone feels refreshed and recharged after the holiday season. In fact, organizations like yours rely on employees returning to work after the holidays feeling energized and ready to help the organization flourish in the new year.

With the help of LifeSpeak experts, we’ll examine how stress arises and why excessive stress levels are so detrimental to the body and mind. Then we’ll provide concrete strategies that you and your employees can use to mitigate stress around the holidays and all year round.

What is stress, and how does it work?

Stress is emotional tension or mental strain. It can have many sources, such as professional demands, financial debt, or holiday expectations, of course.

As Dr. Nicole Loreto says in her LifeSpeak video series, Stress Mastery and Building Resilience, everyone experiences stress differently—a racing heart or sweaty hands, trouble thinking clearly, or a feeling of overwhelm with so many thoughts that it’s hard to be coherent.

“Stress is part of our lives, whether we want it or not,” Dr. Loreto says. “And stress is invisible to the eye. It works under our skin, causing some real damage in our cells.”

When the brain interprets stimuli as a threat, it tells a small area of the brain called the hypothalamus to send a distress signal through the body using the nervous system. This triggers the fight-or-flight response. The body releases adrenaline and cortisol to keep itself energized and alert. It’s a defense mechanism meant to keep us alive.

But when the body experiences stress day after day, it wears down. A response designed to help ends up hurting.

The good news is that anyone can train their brain to reduce their stress levels. Below are specific strategies you and your employees can use to manage stress during the holidays and all year round.

Box breathing to reduce stress

In her LifeSpeak video series, Managing Stress in the Workplace through Mindfulness and Resiliency, Dr. Reena Kotecha says mindfulness can reduce the size and activity of the amygdala—the brain’s alarm center. This reduces the amount of cortisol in the body, leading to lower stress levels, clearer minds, and calmer emotions.

One technique Dr. Kotecha recommends is called box breathing. The technique has four steps:

Step one: Breathe in through the nose for four counts. Direct the air into the abdomen.

Step two: Hold the breath for four counts.

Step three: Exhale through the mouth or nose for four counts.

Step four: Hold the breath for four counts.

“My hope,” Dr. Kotecha says, “is that you’ll remember to use this simple technique when you need some calm and relaxation.

“And remember that you can do it anywhere: whilst sat at your desk, whilst in the washroom, or the next time you feel triggered by a stressful situation.”

Budgeting for the holidays

As the research above indicated, holiday shopping is a significant source of stress for many people. People often have trouble sticking to a budget, even when they carefully plan one.

“Remember the odds are stacked against you,” certified financial planner Elizabeth Scheiderer says in her LifeSpeak video, How should I budget for holiday shopping?

“Holiday spending is a multi-billion-dollar industry where those marketers are looking to get you to make those impulse purchases. Behavior psychologists spend billions of dollars in making certain that products are placed in the right spot.”

Scheiderer advises thinking about both an overall holiday budget and a budget for each individual person on your gift list. She recommends adopting the “envelope system.”

To use the envelope system, write each person’s name on a separate envelope and assign a dollar value to each envelope. When shopping for gifts, refer to your envelopes and spend the amount allotted for each person.

Organizing tasks with lists

In her LifeSpeak blog, Bringing on Holiday Cheer, yoga teacher Jennifer Snowdon recommends making lists to organize and prioritize tasks heading into the holidays.

On the first list, write down everything you need to do before the holidays. On the second list, write down everything you want to do before the holidays.

Then compare the two lists and identify items to delete or delegate. Schedule the remaining items into your calendar—making sure to leave room for the unexpected.

Snowdon’s key is to make sure that you include your own wellbeing on the list.

“Take stock of what you need for the holidays,” Snowdon says. “What are the things that make your holiday time enjoyable and manageable for yourself?”

For example, introverts may want to make sure they’ve left enough alone time between social events to recharge. Extroverts, on the other hand, might want to make sure they don’t have too many quiet days in between social events.

Then there are things everyone can do, regardless of personality type.

Prioritize movement to counteract all the sitting around and eating and include creativity by engaging in arts and crafts. Exercise boosts positive feelings and creating can calm the nervous system and promote relaxation.

Snowdon’s final piece of advice is to try not to have too many expectations.

“If we come into the holidays with an idea of what they should be, we might miss what they actually are,” Snowdon says. “Do your best to prepare, then let go and just enjoy.”

Looking for more wellbeing support this holiday season?

These are just a few ways that both you and your employees can prioritize wellbeing this holiday season.

LifeSpeak features over 2,300 micro learning videos designed to help anyone improve or maintain mental health and wellbeing.

Our experts are passionate doctors and educators and cover wide breadth of topics including stress, depression, nutrition, physical wellness, DEI, and more. The LifeSpeak platform is available anytime and anywhere to support your people.

Learn more about how LifeSpeak can help you take care of your people here.

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