5 Simple Tips for Easing Holiday Stress

People wrapping holiday gifts
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At work or at home, get in the spirit without losing your mind.

My email notification pings. I open the message to a brightly colored elf serenading me with a work party invitation. It happens to be my face pasted on the comically oversized head. “I’m serenading myself,” I think, chuckling under my breath. This is the invite to Plasticity Labs’ holiday tradition—the “holidate”—one of my favorite events of the year. For many of us, the holidays are filled with invitations from co-workers, planned events with family and all the usual celebrations of the season.

The holidays can be both stressful and joyful, bundled into one emotionally charged season.

Rodrigo Araujo, Ph.D., senior data scientist at Plasticity Labs, analyzed workplace stress and seasonality. He identified fall (October to December, including the winter holidays) as the unhappiest time of the year for people in the workplace. At first, we were surprised. We thought late winter (January to March) would be the gloomiest season. Obviously, our bias as long-sufferers of the tough Canadian winters played a role in that hypothesis. However, when we reviewed our earlier research, it validated why this time of year causes stress. Our emotional volatility increases during the fall for myriad reasons, but one of the biggest impacts on our stress is an increasingly busy and ever-fluctuating schedule. This causes an out-of-control feeling that can make our brains uncomfortable.

But, there is a way to combat this seasonal stress, even when social pressures threaten to derail our best intentions. Most importantly, we need to remind ourselves that there is much to love about this time of year. To keep us on track, here are a few best practices to rewire your attitude (and happiness) during the holiday season.

1. Make it a team effort.

Are you stressing to get everything accomplished for the holidays? Check off your to-do list during the workday with friends. Initiate “Wrapping Wednesdays” during the month of December. Order in lunch, bring in communal paper, tools and tape, and have fun gift-wrapping together as a team. Employees can have their gifts wrapped for a fee and the proceeds donated to a local charity. This saves you time, eliminates a chore and gives something back to the community.

2. Give experiences, not stuff.

If your workplace participates in gift exchanges, remember that thoughtful is always more valuable. On birthdays and special holidays, we smile bomb our co-workers. Desks are covered in sticky notes with descriptions about what makes them special. It’s the gift that keeps on giving; I love rereading my notes whenever I’m having a tough day.

Computer covered in post-its.

3. Be authentic.

Host holiday events that resonate. Most companies throw a formal holiday party. It may be exactly what your employees want, but do you know for sure? If you’re a decision-maker or influencer, come up with a few ideas, poll the group and act on the results. For our holidate, we do lunch and take the afternoon off to watch a movie (Star Wars—three years running). The day is simple, intimate and authentically tied to our amazing geeky culture.

4. It’s OK to say no.

We often feel obliged to say yes to every holiday invite. It’s tough to turn down a co-worker and even tougher to say no to the boss. However, stress stems from being overextended. Start by asking your peers which events are of higher priority for you to attend. Now you won’t burn out trying to be everywhere for everyone.

5. Save a vacation day.

Did you know that the average employee receives two weeks of vacation and leaves five days on the table every year? According to Project: Time Off, an initiative of the U.S. Travel Association, Americans forfeited 206 million vacation days in 2016. We tend to hold on to our vacation days for a rainy day, and yet, that rainy day never comes. It may seem like it’s counterintuitive to take time off work just before the holidays, but saving one day for yourself—to do absolutely nothing—will be the best way to stay energized, fresh and engaged at work.

I’ll leave you with this bonus tip to ensure that you close 2017 with a positive mindset. The next time an RSVP notification pops up from a dancing elf, remember, it could be worse. Instead of groaning, practice gratitude instead. This is the time of year to be full of thanks and grace, a time to reflect on the past and look ahead optimistically to what the new year will bring. Practice gratitude to rewire an otherwise stressful time and finish off 2017 with positive experiences and happy memories.

2018 will thank you.


JENNIFER MOSS is the co-founder of Plasticity Labs and best-selling author of Unlocking Happiness at Work. She’s a happiness researcher and thought leader on the topics of emotional intelligence and organizational performance and a contributor to Harvard Business Review, Forbes, BBC, National Post and Huffington Post. Jennifer was recognized with the International Female Entrepreneur of the Year Stevie Award, and she and her two co-founders were named Canadian Innovators of the Year.

From the December 2017 issue of Live Happy magazine.

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