The average American spends 42 hours a year on holiday activities. That's a sobering stat for most of us hard-working professionals, who barely have 4.2 hours to spare, let alone 42. Even worse: 64% of employees indicate that holiday-related stress leads them to be distracted at work. Moreover, holiday stress drives the quality of professionals' work by roughly 30%. This is a serious issue.
With all the shopping, giftwrapping, partying and traveling--not to mention finishing all your work ahead of the holiday break--you may feel overwhelmed by your holiday schedule. While it's nearly impossible to avoid holiday stress altogether, there are many ways to reduce stress and get through the holiday season without completely losing it:
- Above all, prioritize.
65% of employees say shopping for gifts is partly to blame for their elevated levels of stress; planning ahead is one solution. And who says Santa needs to have a monopoly on list-making? A simple, effective way to decrease stress is to write down what needs executed in the short-term, and what you're able to put off. If you break it down in small, easy-to-accomplish tasks, you'll feel more organized and in control, and less anxiety-ridden.
- Embrace saying no.
Many of us overcommit ourselves around the holiday season, whether it's taking on a new work project, agreeing to attend yet another holiday party, or baking an extra batch of cookies for your daughter's holiday bake sale. We often don't realize until it's too late, so make sure to stay on top of your to-do list. Make a list and prioritize--see #1 above--and be upfront about what you just don't have time for. If any requests are going to get in the way of the "mission critical" activities that are on the list, feel free to say no.
- Create (and stick to) a budget.
One study conducted by Virgin Pulse found that 60% of workers' holiday stress was a result of trying to maintain finances, underlying the importance of developing a budget. Plan ahead and decide how much you want to (and can) spend, then stick to your budget. After all, the holidays are about expressing love and gratitude, not about spending piles of money on presents.
- Carve out time for yourself.
While you're running around shopping, cooking and decorating, make sure to schedule a modicum of relaxation time. Whether it's thirty or forty five minutes a day, a little bit can make a major difference. Whether it's meditation, a bubble bath, or even slumping down on the couch up with a new business book (don't judge: that's how I roll), do whatever you need to recharge your batteries.
- Don't let every meal be an exception.
71% of respondents in the Virgin Pulse study indicated that they eat unhealthily from two to five days a week as a result of the holidays. That figure seems to be about right from my observations. Part of the problem is all the holiday parties you're attending. If you've overindulged at one or two in a row, try to fill up on something healthy before the third party in three nights. It will become that much easier to avoid consuming fifteen hundred calories in an hour.
- Incorporate exercise into your daily routine.
With all the great food and social events, it's difficult to avoid packing on a few pounds during the holidays. Now more than ever, you should be making exercise a priority. Yet, sadly, the opposite tends to happen: 51% of workers skip exercising between two and five days a week as a result of the holidays, According to one study, when frequent exercisers become inactive, it takes just one week for them to begin to feel depressed and fatigued. I'm not ordering you to deprive yourself of everything from peppermint bark to egg nog, but if you go to the gym, you'll feel less guilty when you indulge.
- Don't treat sleep as an afterthought.
Healthy habits include not just eating right and exercising; getting enough sleep and keeping your stress levels low are also important. A number of well-documented studies suggest that stress coupled with sleep deprivation can increase one's risk for depression, as well as other mood disorders. You need to be heading into January well-rested as opposed to depleted; otherwise, how will you possible start 2016 on the right foot?
Why do we put so much pressure on ourselves during the holiday season? It has the potential to be an uplifting and energizing time of the year--but only if you implement some of the steps above to minimize stress whenever possible. How many of these steps do you think you can work into your routine?