Coping Strategies: How to Manage Extra Holiday Stress

Workplace stress is all too common, especially in the lead-up to the holidays. A workplace expert over at the American Psychological Association chatted with Associations Now about how to cope with the extra stress.

Congratulations, y’all! It wasn’t pretty, and it was definitely distressing, but you made it through the election. Now you can just sit back, relax, and enjoy the approaching holidays! That’s right: Just in case you weren’t keeping track, Thanksgiving is 14 days away, and both Hanukkah and Christmas are 45 days away.

Some association professionals might read about a holiday countdown and immediately get cheery visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads, while others might get a raging headache (that feels like someone whacked them on the head with a nutcracker). If you identify with the latter sort, you’re not a Grinch—you might just be stressed. And it turns out that workplace stress around the holidays is pretty common.

“Not only are people struggling with financial issues around the holidays, they’re also dealing with interpersonal issues,” said Dr. David Ballard, workplace expert at the American Psychological Association’s Center for Organization Excellence. “They’ve got people coming to visit, they’re dealing with the potential for conflict, they’re dealing with work-life balance issues and trying to get everything done on the job and still take care of everything they need to do at home.

OK, so what do we do about this extra stress? Ballard shared a few ideas:

Know thy self. One way to mitigate stress is to forecast it. What are certain cues that show that you’re becoming stressed? “Some people have a hard time concentrating—they have difficulty making decisions,” Ballard said. “Other people get angry and irritable. Some people have physical symptoms—headaches, a stiff neck, a lack of energy.” Knowing your cues will allow you to tackle the stress before it snowballs.

Along with knowing your stress indicators, you should also figure out how you usually cope with your stress. Is it anger or frustration toward colleagues? Are you eating more junk food or drinking more alcohol? Being able to manage stress “really starts with being able to have an eye on stress, being able to predict it, so that when it does arrive, that you can deal with it better,” he said.

Now that you know your stress cues and your coping strategies, how do we limit this extra stress? Ballard had a few more thoughts:

Plan in advance. This time of year, responsibilities and commitments seem to multiply. Ballard recommended writing a to-do list down on paper or entering them in a smartphone task list, so instead of having these items swirling around your head, you’ll have them organized. And while you’re making the list, make sure that you’re setting realistic expectations for yourself. Cut out unnecessary demands on your time. Delegate when you’re able, and reschedule if possible.

Start and finish projects. In the name of multitasking, many people move on to another project before wrapping up one. “It can make it feel like it’s a never-ending cycle of things that we have to do,” Ballard said. Instead, take the time to finish up one thing, then take a moment to breathe before moving onto the next thing.

Take a break. Research proves that taking breaks during the workday lowers stress and ups productivity, so step away once in a while—and step away from your desk for lunch too. “We feel like we can’t afford to do that because there’s so much to do, but when we actually do, it actually helps us get more done,” Ballard said.

Don’t skimp on self-care. When your schedule is packed and your to-do list is never-ending, it’s tempting to forgo the jog or skip yoga, but you shouldn’t. Ballard said that sleep, exercise, healthy food, and time with friends and family are imperative to staying on top of stress. Skipping out on those might seem like a good idea in the short term, but “it really just makes the stress worse in the long run,” Ballard said.

Stick to your boundaries. Make sure that technology is working for you rather than against you. “To recover from workplace stress, you have to disengage from work,” Ballard said. Physically, you should leave your office and your computer, but it’s not always feasible to leave your mobile device, which is pinging you with constant alerts. Ballard recommends that you create good boundaries with your colleagues and that you stick to them.

Create positive spillover. Just as a hard day at work can spillover into your personal life by making you grumpy or irritable, a good day on the job can have a positive effect on your life. You can’t always control the way things go at work, but you can control the way it affects you.  “Find ways to let go of the negative things on your commute home, before you walk in the door,” Ballard recommended. “So even if it was a tough day, it’s not going to color the rest of your evening.”

Use your health benefits. “And if things get really difficult, sometimes it goes beyond relying on friends and family,” Ballard said. “Sometimes you need to reach out and get additional support, and that might mean tapping into counselors through an employee-assistance program that’s available at work, or using a mental health benefit that’s part of your healthcare plan.”

How do you cope with extra workplace stress? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Emily Bratcher

By Emily Bratcher

Emily Bratcher is a Contributing Editor for Associations Now. MORE

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