What a relief: Follow these tips for reducing holiday stress

Mary Cornforth Cawood
Mary Cornforth Cawood

The holiday season is just around the corner. While most of us look forward to gathering with family and friends, the holidays also bring stress that takes a toll on our health and workplace productivity.

For many businesses, this is crunch time. Increased sales and service deliveries, end-of-year reports and completing projects before winter weather sets in has many of us trying to do more with less time. We compound the pressures at work with recitals, parties, shopping and the ever-lengthening holiday to-do list to find we suffer mentally and physically.

Taking time to practice self-care is important. A worn down body is more susceptible to illness, which is the last thing you need this time of year. A healthy body keeps us focused, increases productivity and enables us to maximize our time so we can focus on the things we enjoy most this time of year. Here are some tips for staying well and managing stress:

Eating — Break room treats, parties and family celebrations derail our normal eating habits, adding pounds and a feeling of sluggishness. Make time to eat breakfast and pack a lunch and healthy snacks to keep you satisfied and maintain your energy levels throughout the day. While you might be inclined to skip a meal when you’re pressed for time, you’re then more likely to overindulge in high-calorie treats that leave you lethargic and bloated. Save your calories for what you enjoy most so you don’t feel deprived.

Hydration — It’s tempting to keep refilling the coffee mug to power through the day, especially when it’s cold outside. Don’t. Caffeine is a dehydrator, causing more harm than good from that initial energy boost. If you need to hug a mug, fill it with hot water and throw in a lemon slice. The release of citrus oils provides a refreshing boost of energy. Pack a water bottle to sip throughout the day and in the car. If you don’t like the taste of water, add some fruit for natural flavor. Miss the fizz of soda? Try sparkling water.

Sleep – Make sure you’re getting enough. I know:  easier said than done. I’m guilty as charged because when there’s too much to do, sleep is the first thing I sacrifice. Try getting at least six hours of sleep each night. At work and home, prioritize your tasks with the must-do’s first and let the little things wait. Try making lists for the next day before going to bed so your mind doesn’t race as you’re lying in bed. Resist the temptation to check messages and put away the electronics so your bedroom remains a quiet, restful place.

Exercise — If we aren’t sacrificing sleep, we’re skipping out on our normal exercise routines. Exercise is so important this time of year. Shorter days and increased darkness make it hard to fit in, but exercise is a great stress-buster. The endorphins released during exercise make you feel good and can increase your productivity. If longer work days or evening activities force you to miss workouts, maximize your lunch break. Weather permitting, get outside and get some fresh air. Nothing is more energizing than a brisk walk. Can’t get outside? There are lots of exercises that can be done in a few minutes at your workspace — including standing more throughout the day.

Positive relationships — Do you have a work buddy? Feeling connected to someone at work is an often overlooked part of good mental health and stress relief.  We all need to do our part in creating a work environment where employees feel valued and have someone in which to confide. My team’s walking meetings not only constitute great brainstorming sessions, but also offer a safe time for everyone to share what’s happening in their worlds.

Downtime — It’s hard to justify downtime when it feels like your day needs at least 26 hours, but even just a few minutes of relaxation are beneficial to your mental health and cognitive function. Schedule an appointment with yourself, if you must, to ensure you’re giving your body time to decompress and your brain to reset. If nothing else, give yourself that time before you go to bed.

Illness — If you’re sick, stay home. If you have a fever, cough or sneeze a lot or have a viral or bacterial infection, take a sick day. Coming to work sick not only delays your recovery, but also puts co-workers at risk. Stay home and get well so you can return to your productive self.

Now’s the time to plan to manage your stress at work and at home to stay healthy this holiday season. The best gift you can give yourself is the time to practice self-care. You’ll not only feel better, but also will be a better employee, manager, spouse, parent and friend. Being present is really the best present for which anyone can ask.