The holiday season is certainly cause for joy and celebration. It's also a season of high stress. How many people reading this wish they could teleport themselves to a remote island and return home in early January? 

Since we have to juggle so much at this time of year, stress can lead to exhaustion--the point where your body can no longer effectively deal with the stressor.

Reaching this stage of stress has health consequences, like weight gain, migraines, difficulty sleeping, hypertension, and various immune disorders. At worse, it can lead to heart disease and some cancers.

Research has also found that work life is a bigger source of stress during the holidays because of several factors, the biggest ones being heavy workloads, lack of opportunities for advancement, and low salaries.

All in all, 56 percent of workers feel that work is their greatest source of stress, versus 29 percent who feel the stress primarily comes from home. So how do we turn this around? 

The greatest predictor of happiness during the holidays

Popular psychologist and best-selling author Shawn Achor found in his research that practicing social support is the "greatest predictor of happiness" during times of high stress. 

Surprisingly, even something as simple as walking within five feet of another person and saying hello, according to his study, led to not only happier employees but also more satisfied clients!

And providing someone at work with social support was even more important to sustained happiness and engagement.

For example, when people initiated positive behaviors such as helping out a peer feeling overwhelmed, picking up the slack for a team member, or inviting a co-worker to lunch, not only were they 10 times more likely to be engaged at work than those who kept to themselves, they were also 40 percent more likely to get a promotion, according to Achor.

Practice makes perfect, goes the saying, right? But it starts with your head. Achor says, "Training your brain to be positive is not so different from training your muscles at the gym. Recent research on neuroplasticity--the ability of the brain to change even in adulthood--reveals that as you develop new habits, you rewire the brain."

One new habit to develop is to write a positive message to someone in your social support network. Achor's research suggests that engaging in this brief positive exercise every day for as little as three weeks can retrain your brain to become more optimistic.

Case in point: Right before the worst tax season in decades, before the recession of 2008 hit, Achor asked tax managers at KPMG to engage in this positive exercise (including a few others that were as brief as two minutes per day) to boost their happiness.

Several days after the training concluded, study participants and a control group were evaluated to determine their general sense of well-being and level of engagement. "On every metric, the experimental group's scores in optimism and life satisfaction were significantly higher than the control group's," said Achor.

Even four months later, writing a brief and positive email or text every morning to praise or thank someone they knew kept these tax managers happier. "Happiness had become habitual," said Achor.

Returning the favor

Now that you know the scientific benefits of social support, why not pay it forward in the most giving (and receiving) time of the year? Before you break for the holidays to be home and exchange gifts with family, extend the gift of truly connecting with people at work, such as helping that stressed-out newcomer struggling to beat a deadline or offering to mentor someone to get them over the hump. It's relationships that matter most in the relationship economy, and it's these work relationships that will often lead to amazing results. 

Published on: Dec 12, 2018
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