The extra traffic on the roads and crowds of people at the stores increase tensions. The shortened daylight hours create the illusion that there’s less time. I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’m immediately launched into the holiday season the moment that the candles are extinguished in the jack-o-lanterns. And into a time crunch, too.
Hello holiday stress.
All of a sudden, everyone feels like they have a long list of things they need to do and expectations to fulfil as December 31st looms nearer. They have to finish all the gift shopping and pick perfect presents for each person. The decorations have to magical and better than last year. Holiday dinners have to be made from scratch and delicious. And somehow make the rounds at all the rounds at parties with a smile.
The holidays also bring a different kind of stress.
For many the end of the year serves as a reminder of the goals they hoped to accomplish this year and still haven’t. The last two months become about reaching that personal goal, finishing that work project, and generally tying up loose ends. All this in the hopes that doing so will make them more productive, successful, or better off.
It’s a lot to cram into a short period of time.
I know because I’ve fallen victim to this kind of holiday stress myself. But last year I did something different. Instead of getting swept up in the madness, I slowed down on November 1st and asked myself what I wanted out of the holiday season and how I wanted to feel. The answers were simple:
#1 I wanted to relax and enjoy my family.
#2 I wanted to feel good about my work with clients.
#3 I wanted my business to be ready for the new year.
I took those three goals and asked myself, “What will help me achieve this?” for each one. For #1 that meant taking the pressure and guess-work out of gift-giving. I cut Santa’s list down only to immediate family and fired off a text in the family group chat, “What are 3 things on your gift list?” Some variation of gift card was on everyone’s list, so each person got a gift card to their preferred retailer. I also kept holiday decorations to a minimum at home (outside only) and the office (I hate the chore of putting them away in January).
Having less to do and fewer shops to commute to decreased my overall stress. Without worrying about how I was going to get a bunch of things done, I was able to stay focused on effectively working with my clients. #1 and #2 check! This also meant I had more time to focus on #3. Again, I asked myself what I could do now to help me hit the ground running in January. The answer was brainstorming new year’s goals for my business. I took it a step further and identified four tasks that would set me up to achieve my new year goals and which could be reasonably achieved December 31st. I worked on one task at a time before moving on to the next one. By staying focused, I completed my four tasks by December 14th.
You’re probably wondering how my story can help you manage your holiday stress.
Well, you can use the same method to reduce your holiday stress this year. I teach these to my clients to help them alleviate anxiety and increase their performance and productivity at work. Last year I had the bright idea of combining them to alleviate my annual holiday stress debacle.
Begin with the end in mind as Franklin Covey wrote in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Most people focus on tasks checked off and desired outcomes achieved. In this case, the desired outcomes were feelings. I wanted to feel relaxed, accomplished, and prepared so I could enjoy the holidays.
With those emotional goals in mind, I reverse engineered the steps I needed to take to reach them using the pareto principle. It’s the concept that 80% of the outcomes are the results of 20% of the causes. This helped me keep limit my action steps and keep them simple (i.e. presents and decorations) to maximize the results (i.e. relaxation and more free time).
As a trained neuropsychologist, I can confidently say that multitasking is bullsh*t. Your brain can’t competently do multiple things at once. Instead, give yourself a deadline and focus on one task at a time until it’s done. It’s more efficient and you’ll get more done in less time. The added bonus is that you’ll feel like a rock star.
Using these 3 strategies to fight holiday stress also had some unexpected benefits.
Simplifying gift-giving and decor meant that I spent less money and avoiding financial stress after the holidays. This helped reset my expectations about the holidays, and I found myself not falling into holiday people-pleasing and perfectionism. I was also able to take better care of myself during a time of year that can be very other-focused. With a clear head, I was able to effectively set and hold boundaries during uncomfortable conversations and manage toxic family members.
I hope this has given you some ideas about how to reduce your own holiday stress this year. If you need help putting them into practice, feel free to call us at (305) 501-0133 or click here to schedule a free 20-minute Clarity Consult to learn more about how working with one of our therapists can help you improve your life.