December is a tough time of year. It ought to be easy. Many businesses slow down. There are parties. You have the chance to spend time with friends and family.
And yet, holiday time is stressful.
Stress is the emotional reaction you get when there is something negative out there in the world that you’re trying to avoid. If you’re feeling stress around holiday time, then you need to figure out what you are trying to avoid and deal with it. That can be more complicated to do than it seems, because when you start being motivated to avoid negative things in the world, you also start focusing on all of the negatives around you, which can compound your stress.
Here are a few things to think about.
Navigating the party maze
Office parties are supposed to be fun. And sometimes, they’re great. But, your colleagues may not be your friends, and so the office party runs the risk of mixing different kinds of relationships.
Here are a couple of tips to make them go smoothly.
If you’re an introvert, then office parties are excruciating. You may enjoy your colleagues in small groups, but the stress of small talk (and—perish the thought—karaoke) puts fear in your heart. You still need to go, but go with a plan. Tell yourself that you’re just going for 20 minutes. That way, the party itself doesn’t create a lot of stress beforehand. Then, make a plan for who you need to talk to so that a few people will know you were there. Sometimes, the party is less bad than you think it will be, and you can always decide to stay longer. But, if you’re feeling uncomfortable, make a quick round and then head out.
You still want to be professional. These are people you have to work with. Go easy on the alcohol at company parties—even if the ethos is for people to let it all hang out. You have to work with these people after the party. The last thing you want is to be followed around the office by stories of bad behavior.
Just because you’re at a holiday party, don’t feel like you have to divulge lots of personal information if you don’t want to. If your colleagues aren’t the people you want to invite into your life, you can still be sociable. If you listen more than you talk, you won’t feel pressure to say more than you’re comfortable with.
Handling the web of gifts
The hardest part about the holidays is the gift giving. There may be people at work you need to give something to. And you probably have some gifts to give to family.
At the office, remember that it really is the thought that counts. Almost nobody needs yet another coffee mug. A nice note and a small token of appreciation is plenty.
For family, it is probably best to keep in mind that experiences are almost always better than stuff. If you can spend some time with family members, that is a great gift. If you are far away, think about getting them something that will allow them to do something–passes to a movie, entry to a museum, a book of crossword puzzles, or a magazine on a topic they enjoy. These are gifts that will create memories rather than dust on the shelf.
When you start feeling stressed about gifts, think about the number of gifts you have gotten that you have completely forgotten. Most of what you get from others disappears from memory a few weeks into the new year. So, relax. An imperfect gift won’t destroy a relationship.
Get a jump on next year
An oddly stressful part of the work year is that things slow down during the holidays. That can make you feel as though you ought to be getting something done, but aren’t. So, your brain goes on the lookout for why you are suddenly doing less than you had been doing in the past.
It might be valuable to take some of that extra time and do some of the tasks you have been avoiding when work is most hectic. If there is a book you have been meaning to read in your field, keep it by your desk and open it up. If there is some continuing education you can do online, consider taking some hours to develop new skills. If there are colleagues you haven’t seen in a while, find a time to grab a cup of coffee and find out what they are working on.
As soon as you get to the other side of New Year’s, work is going to pick right back up where it left off. By the time you have a chance to breathe again, it could be summer. So, anything you can do to fulfill some of your long-term goals when work is slow is effort you will appreciate later.
As an added bonus, it will make you feel productive, and so you’ll stress less over the reduced holiday workload.