5 ways to manage festive anxiety this year

7 December 2020

Andy Williams sang, “it’s the most wonderful time of the year,” but for many business owners and employees, the lead up to Christmas can be anything but festive.

Whether you love or loathe the day itself, the lead up to Christmas is chaotic. Everyone needs everything done with only a few weeks to spare and there are only so many hours in the day to achieve it. Add to that the emotional and financial pressure that often comes with this time of year and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a meltdown.

I should know. Having dealt with anxiety since childhood, I had my first ever full-blown panic attack in the middle of a packed shopping centre while out Christmas shopping one year. Heart-warming, you’ll agree. But it was a useful lesson in learning how I could and should approach things differently to ensure I didn’t find myself in that place again.

Unsurprisingly, I’m not unique. A UK workplace study found 54% of respondents feel stressed in the lead up to Christmas holidays with buying Christmas presents (56%), finishing work (49%) and increasing workload (44%) coming in as the top three causes of stress at Christmas [1].

So, to help your business and its employees make it through the mad rush from now until the end of the year, I thought I’d share some tips on how I get through (most) days without tipping into overwhelmed territory.

1. Break projects down into manageable tasks

“Breaking tasks down helps us to see large tasks as more approachable and doable, and reduces our propensity to procrastinate or defer tasks, because we simply don’t know where to begin,” explains Melissa Gratias, Ph.D., a workplace productivity coach and speaker [2].

While memory limits can vary from person to person, it’s estimated our average working memory capacity (working memory is what’s used in mental tasks) is only three to five items. Anything more is bound to fall out of your brain. So, if you rely on your memory, you’ll stop at every step of the task and think, ‘What am I supposed to do next?’

Furthermore, this process shouldn’t happen mentally (because, in case you already forgot, your memory isn’t all that great). These individual steps should be physically written down on your task list or in a checklist you can refer back to.

2. Focus on one task at a time

In a 2010 study, Harvard psychologists Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert found that people spend almost 47% of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re currently doing [3]. This is like the work equivalent of texting and driving.

But focusing on one task at a time takes practice. While multitasking takes more energy than focusing on a single task, multi-tasking plays into our brain’s desire to constantly filter stimuli, which gives you a hit of dopamine–the brain’s ‘reward chemical’.

Long story short, your brain is an idiot that thinks multi-tasking is fun. It’s not and you need to limit it wherever possible.

3. Make time for focused work without distraction

Let me ask you something. How many tabs do you have open on your internet browser right now? If you’re anything like me and my colleagues, it could be anywhere in the realm of 10-50 tabs. No wonder we’re distracted!

Focused work requires an environment free of distractions. That means phone calls, email notifications, IM notifications and texts.

Real time alerts and instant notifications are a curse and a trap, people. Aunty June doesn’t need to know if you’re coming for lunch on Sunday in the next two minutes. Jess in Accounts will survive if you don’t let her know what you’re having for lunch immediately. Even your boss won’t mind if you respond to their email later that day instead of launching into action immediately.

I promise you, I would not steer you down the garden path on this. The day I turned off email notifications on my phone and computer was the day I found freedom.

4. Find time for fun with your team and colleagues

Find ways to enjoy the festive season at work. What’s most meaningful to your employees and colleagues and how could you make the time leading into Christmas more enjoyable for them?

In the UK workplace study, employees nominated their most desired Christmas perks as flexible hours or early finish (60%), relaxed dress code (34%), team outings/lunches (33%), Christmas tree/office decorations (32%) and a Christmas party (30%) [4].

But maybe volunteering or fundraising might be more meaningful in your workplace. Or maybe they’d enjoy a quirky Christmas video that celebrates their contribution. My point is, there are a million things you can do to make someone feel special. The trick is taking the time to do it.

5. Practice mindfulness

I can almost hear your eyes rolling into the back of your head from here. But when it all gets too overwhelming and all the strategies I’ve employed don’t seem to be working, mindfulness has never failed me.

There’s a ton of research and information out there on mindfulness so I’ll let people far more knowledgeable and learned than I explain it to you. But for me, mindfulness is training the brain and mind to bring attention back to the present moment instead of what you’re anxiously focusing on. Since the present moment is usually relatively safe, this can help cut anxiety and, for me, it’s a circuit breaker I can use to prevent a panic attack.

So, there you have it. Five techniques you can try to help manage anxiety in the lead up to Christmas, sent with hugs from one stressed out human to another. And don’t forget, it’s been a particularly busy year and we’ve lived through a GLOBAL PANDEMIC. I think we all owe it to each other to be a little kinder to ourselves and those around us this year.

[1] https://www.peldonrose.com/news-insight/features/managing-christmas-stress-in-the-office/

[2] https://melissagratias.com/

[3] https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2010/11/wandering-mind-not-a-happy-mind/

[4] https://www.peldonrose.com/news-insight/features/managing-christmas-stress-in-the-office/