How to Handle Holiday Stress at Work

Combat that holiday workload and stress with this advice.

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You were already busy, but now you're crazy busy. The holidays are here, and if you feel like your stress level is escalating, you're not alone. That overwhelming feeling is almost expected during the holiday season.

That's because the holidays bring more of everything, both good and bad. While there's more opportunity for festivity and fun with family and friends, there's also the flip side: more money spent, more pressure to do everything in too little time and more chances for conflict in your relationships.

There's even more email, which research has consistently found to be one of the biggest contributors to stress during busy periods like the holidays. According to Sociometric Solutions, a startup out of Massachusetts Institute of Technology that measures how people behave and interact at work.

In short: "'Tis the season to be tired, cranky, bloated and broke," says Richard Bedrosian, director of Behavioral Health for Wellness & Prevention, Inc. "Holiday stress can overwhelm people in some of the same ways as job stress, so individuals may experience a double whammy as these life stresses compound one another."

But Bedrosian says it doesn't have to be that way. To help professionals mitigate holiday stress both in the office and at home, he offers the following tips:

Define your mission this holiday season. In times of high stress, having a clear purpose can help. When you begin to feel overwhelmed or stressed, take a deep breath and remember why the holidays are important to you. If your mission is to connect with family, being together is all that really matters – no matter where you are or what you're eating. If it's rest and relaxation you're after, taking time for yourself is critical.

Respect your physical and emotional limits. If you are tired, rest. If you are hungry, eat. If you are overburdened with extra tasks for the holidays, try to let some of your other responsibilities slide for a few weeks.

Try gift guidelines. Set a budget for each person on your gift list, and stick to it. If you tend to overspend, try to make all your purchases with cash. Do not fret over buying the perfect gift. Almost any gift can be returned or exchanged. Besides, don't we always say it's the thought that counts? 

Scale back. Consider scaling back the scope of your holidays, particularly if you are experiencing more stress in your life this year. Where is it written that you have to do the same things every year? You do not have to repeat what you did last year, let alone do something bigger and better.

Maintain realistic expectations. Stuff happens. Your kids may still whine or misbehave, no matter what kind of gifts they receive. The pilaf may turn to mush while you are waiting for the turkey to cook. The upstairs toilet may overflow in the middle of dinner. Your holidays may not look or feel like the Hallmark moments staged in television commercials, but if you stop looking for perfection, they can still be a wonderful time for you and your loved ones.

Do not expect people to change. Expect them to act as they usually do. If Uncle Matty is crude and insulting every other day of the year, do not expect him to change during the holiday season. Make your plans with his limitations in mind, and limit your exposure to toxic people whenever you can.

Renew contact with people who have drifted away. The holidays offer a terrific opportunity for reconnecting with old friends or long-lost family members. Forget about whose fault it was or what you wish you had done. Now is the time to let people know that you are thinking about them. More than likely, they have been thinking about you as well and will be delighted to hear from you.

Express gratitude. Count your blessings in an active way. Make a list of the people and things you appreciate in your life. Encourage your children to do the same, and consider asking everyone in the family to share their lists during your holiday meal. Send a card or an email expressing your thankfulness to the people on your list. Don't neglect to do things that put you and your family back in touch with the deeper significance of the holidays, like going to services or helping the needy.

Think about food and drink. Be careful when consuming alcohol, particularly if you have a tendency to become depressed. And remember that a host or hostess has no obligation to provide an endless supply of drinks. When it comes to holiday meals, avoid skipping meals or starving to compensate for what you are going to eat because it may actually cause you to eat more. But be kind to yourself if you do overeat. It is OK to allow yourself to indulge a little.

Expect a letdown. It is normal to feel let down when all the excitement is over. Once the holidays end, all we can see is another two-and-a-half months of winter stretching out ahead, promising cold temperatures, snow and many more hours of darkness. Be sure to build pleasurable activities into your January schedule so you have something to look forward to.

Robin Madell has spent over two decades as a corporate writer, business journalist, literary agent, and author on business, leadership, career, health, finance, technology, and public-interest issues. She serves as a speechwriter, ghostwriter, and communications consultant for executives and entrepreneurs across diverse industries. Robin has interviewed more than 200 thought leaders around the globe, and has won 20 awards for editorial excellence. She has served on the Board of Directors of the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association in both New York and San Francisco, and contributed to the book Be Your Own Mentor: Strategies from Top Women on the Secrets of Success, published by Random House. Robin is also the author of Surviving Your Thirties: Americans Talk About Life After 30 and co-author of The Strong Principles: Career Success. You can reach her at robin.madell@gmail.com.