In the run-up to Christmas, as Santa’s sleigh bells near, the demands at work, and at home, continue to grow steadily. And as the demands begin to outweigh the resources available to us we begin to stress. In fact, according to a 2015 National Accident Helpline study¹, more than 1 in 4 of us feel more stressed than usual during the festive period, rising to nearly 1 in 3 women.
However, there are lots of practical steps that you can take to reduce the types of stress that you might encounter during the festive period.
- Balance the Christmas pudding with activity
Many of us spend a lot of time working from our desks, and as we get busy we may not feel able to make time to exercise. This can make us feel sluggish, less focussed and often more than a bit guilty.
We are also more likely to over indulge at this time of year. When you’re stressed, your digestion doesn’t work well, resulting in bloating, acid reflux, poor bowel function and fatigue.
Instead of feeling guilty about indulgences try to plan ahead and schedule some physical activities over the Christmas period.
So, even when you feel as if you have no time for it, try to get out for a brisk walk, run or bike ride to clear your head. The likelihood is that you will get much more done afterwards as a brief workout promotes the production of several vital hormones, including endorphins, that regulate your neurological system.
Physical exercise is always stated as the top #StressBuster in our surveys, including most recently by the attendees of HR Tech World in Paris.²
Top tip: You know you are likely to indulge in Christmassy treats – so plan ahead and make a conscious effort to stay active. Get yourself outside at lunchtime or before/after work. The fresh air and sunlight will help to reduce stress levels.
- Connect with friends and family
You might have various deadlines to meet before shutting down for Christmas. Maybe you have end of year reporting to complete or next year’s plan to develop. Or maybe, if you work in retail for example, you will be working overtime during the festive period.
Combining this with buying and wrapping presents, sending cards, attending social functions and making travel plans can become overwhelming.
Top tip: View each Christmas chore as an opportunity to connect with friends or family – this is also stated as a popular #StressBuster within our surveys. Social support and relationships can act as a buffer against stress, celebrate them a little this Christmas!
- Breathe deeply
The body associates being stressed with that upper chest, short, sharp breathing. So, according to Neil Shah, Chief De-stressing Officer, Stress Management Society, “If you are looking for a relief from stress, practising deep breathing is one of the best services that you could be doing yourself. The rate at which we inhale and exhale is controlled by the respiratory centre within the medulla oblongata in the brain. Interestingly this is also the part of the brain that instigates the stress response.”
More oxygen will clear your mind, rejuvenate your skin and energise your whole body. On the other hand, a lack of oxygen will lead to mental sluggishness and a lack of focus, and could lead to a feeling of depression and anxiety.
So, should you be sitting around the table waiting for Christmas dinner, or arguing about Brexit or the US elections, why not take time to lead family in a deep breathing session.
Top tip: Sit or stand in a comfortable, relaxed position with your spine erect. Inhale slowly through your nose to the count of 5. Imagine a ball or balloon in your belly inflating. Hold the breathe for 5-10 seconds. Count slowly to 8 as you exhale. Repeat this technique several times. Breathing deeply, is also another popular #StressBuster cited within our surveys.
- A grateful Christmas
You may have so much to do and so many things to organise that you end up feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. However, there is always something to be grateful for, however small, so try to look for the positives. Positivity is a #StressBuster we would like to see more of.
Be grateful… it may sound hokey, or ridiculously simple – and indeed the activity itself is simple – but over a decade of empirical studies has proven the profound effect it has on the way our brains are wired. Write down a list of “three things you are grateful for” that happened that day and your brain will be forced to scan the last 24 hours for potential positives.³
Top tip: Christmas is a perfect opportunity for gratefulness. Write down three things at the end of each day that you are grateful for, for example: a Christmas gift, a strengthened connection with family, things that brought small or large laughs, feelings of accomplishment at work or a Christmas present you are looking forward to.
- Give gifts that increase happiness
Contrary to the popular saying, money can actually buy happiness (but only if used to do things as opposed to simply have things). In his book “Luxury Fever”4, Robert Frank explains that whilst the positive feelings we get from material objects are frustratingly fleeting, spending money on experiences, especially experiences with other people, produces positive emotions that are more meaningful and last longer.
For instance, researchers interviewed more than 150 people about their recent purchases. They found that money spent on activities, such as concerts and group dinners out, were rated to be far more pleasurable than material purchases like shoes, televisions, or expensive watches.5
Top tip: Give gifts that increase happiness. Do a mini review of your Christmas spending. Are you gifting “things” or “experiences” this Christmas? Instead of buying new clothes why not go for a nice dinner instead?
None of these tips need cost you any money and they are all easy to implement. If you are not doing so already, then we would recommend you try as many as you can to ensure that Christmas is as healthy and enjoyable as possible.
- National Accident Helpline Study, 2015
- HR Tech World Paris Survey, 25-26 October, 2016
- Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. a, Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: empirical validation of interventions. The American Psychologist, 60(5), 410–21. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.60.5.410
- Robert H. Frank (1999). Luxury Fever: Why Money Fails to Satisfy in an Era of Excess
- Dunn, E. W., Aknin, L. B., & Norton, M. I. (2008). Spending money on others promotes happiness. Science (New York, N.Y.), 319(5870), 1687–8. doi:10.1126/science.1150952