Christmas is widely regarded as the most wonderful time of the year, but it can also be a time when stress levels soar. There’s often personal pressure to create the picture-perfect holiday, added financial strain and even increased family conflict – not to mention more stress at work thanks to holiday-shortened deadlines, anxious clients and customers, and frenzied end-of-year workloads.

Feeling overwhelmed by an increased To Do list, disappointed by unrealistic expectations and worried about money are some of the chief symptoms of the holiday blues – and with some retailers promoting the season as early as October, fatigue can begin to set in even earlier.

Most of us are aware of the adverse effects that stress can have on our emotional and physical wellbeing. In fact, studies have shown a correlation in the increased occurrence of heart attacks during the festive season, which may be due to increased stress, combined with heavy alcohol consumption and a fattier-than-usual diet.

Whether you’re looking for ideas to reduce your own holiday stress levels, or to help get your workers through the added pressure of the festive season, we’ve put together some top tips to help stop silly season stress in its tracks.

At Home: Be Mindful of Finances 

Financial strain is one of the leading causes of stress during the holiday season – but an increasing number of families are bucking this trend by focusing on spending less, and putting their focus on time together over gifts, extravagant decorations, and belly-boggling feasts. Something everyone can do to limit financial stress is set a budget, and making an effort to manage impulse spending. 

At Work: Go for a Walk

Getting away from your desk and going to a brisk walk is a good idea year round – but it’s especially important in the lead-up to Christmas, when stress-levels and workplace pressures are higher. Get away from your desk and take a walk around the block on your break. Exercise of any kind produces endorphins, and even a short stroll has been shown to reboot the brain in such a way that it reduces its response to stress.

At Home and At Work: Avoid Overindulging

‘Tis the season to eat, drink and be merry, and we can feel surrounded by extravagant foods and drinks at this time of year! Workmates bring Christmas cookies in to share and family members drop in for pre-Christmas drinks… and while all that merrymaking can seem like a nice treat in the short-term, those added glasses of wine and sugary treats can actually work against you by increasing levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Don’t avoid a indulging altogether – just be treat-wise and stay mindful of portion sizes.

At Home: Kids’ Expectations

Managing the expectations of children at this time of year is never easy – particularly when it seems they’re surrounded by festive hype. Remind children that Christmas is about being together, and that they won’t receive everything on their wishlist to Santa. 

At Work: Prioritise Your To Do List

Christmas is the biggest holiday of the year in New Zealand – and it comes at rather an inconvenient time, being so close to end of year deadlines! Many workers spend December in a frenzy, attempting to complete reports and projects that have been left on the back burner… all the while aware that not everything is going to be marked as complete.

This year, prioritise your workload – deciding which tasks absolutely MUST be done before Santa’s sleigh bells ring, and which less urgent jobs can be dealt with in January, if need be. Talk through your workload, timelines and suggested priorities with your boss or manager so ensure you’re both on the same page, and to give them a chance to re-delegate as needed.

At Home and At Work: Delegate!

Workload and stress are clearly linked, and regular day-to-day demands (cooking, paid work, school runs) don’t stop just because Christmas is fast approaching. If anything – because workplaces and schools shut down over the break– those demands can actually increase, with seasonal tasks such as gift buying and decorating heaped on top.

Trying to achieve everything alone during the holidays can take its toll on your mind and body, so be sure to delegate at home and at work. Share out silly season tasks such as grocery shopping with other family members, or make decorating the tree a fun, shared event rather than a chore. At work, ask for help when you need it! Colleagues and co-workers with lighter workloads will be more than happy to pitch in and lend a hand.

At Home: Sleep

Research shows few adults get the recommended 8-hours of sleep each night, but being well-rested is particularly important during times of increased stress! If there’s just one thing you take away from these tips on managing stress, let this one be it. A lack of sleep affects your mood, diet and quality of work, so don’t stay up all night finishing last-minute reports at home, or wrapping presents. 

At Work: Ditch Secret Santa

Secret Santa is great in theory… but in reality, many workers feel they simply don’t have the time or resources to complete all their usual holiday-related tasks – let alone throw gift purchasing for someone they may not know all that well into the mix! Surveys have shown that Secret Santa shopping can add to feelings of anxiety among employees, because it’s just one more personal task to do, and it can be hard finding a ‘thoughtful’ and clever gift within a $5, $10 or $20 budget. If Secret Santa is a tradition in your workplace, consider gifting staff an hour off during the workweek to shop. 

At Home and At Work: Have Fun!

They say laughter is the best medicine, and for good reason. Laughter lightens your mood, stimulates your heart, lungs, and muscles, boosts circulation, releases endorphins, and – here’s the kicker – lessens the physical symptoms associated with stress. That all means savouring positive experiences, and giving yourself permission to have a little fun at home and at work, will help you get through those more stressful situations this festive season. 

Have 5-minutes before your next meeting starts? Find a Christmas meme and email it to your team. Take a couple of hours this weekend to sit down with your loved ones– or during some much-needed YOU time – and watch a Christmas movie. Pop a Christmas playlist on at work, or bake some festive cookies at home. The point is to decompress and get your to-do list off your mind for 5-minutes.