Balance Managing Self

Stress and the holidays

Written by Judy Hissong

As we enter the busiest shopping season of the year, I think it’s quite appropriate to use the definition below – the holidays are definitely a stimulus or circumstance that causes stress. That stress can affect each of us differently, but muscular tension, irritability and increased blood pressure are three obvious physical signs that warrant attention.

stress (strs)
mentally or emotionally disruptive or upsetting condition occurring in response to adverse external influences and capable of affecting physical health, usually characterized by increased heart rate, a rise in blood pressure, muscular tension, irritability, and depression.
A stimulus or circumstance causing such a condition.

The holiday season comes alongside year end procedures and processes, client entertaining and gifts, budgeting season, and holiday party planning at work and at home. It’s no wonder that two-thirds of full-time workers nationwide say they have experienced workplace stress around the holidays, according to a recent random sampling of 600 full-time workers for Accenture HR Services. Nearly one-quarter of the workers surveyed said they have taken at least one day off because of holiday stress.

As for the major causes of holiday stress, 54 percent cited finding the time to shop for gifts, while 41 percent mentioned keeping up with day-to-day work responsibilities. Other factors include spending time with family and friends, 35 percent; balancing a manager’s expectations against the employee’s needs, 28 percent; and preparing for household guests, 26 percent.

I’m sure you are quite accustomed to wearing many hats – practitioner, owner, colleague, boss, spouse, friend, need I go on? The holiday season is no exception to this requirement, and can add a hat or two to your head. We can do our very best to take care of those around us, but if we aren’t taking care of ourselves, it’s tough to be responsible to others. Before the crazy holiday season arrives, take a few minutes, and I mean literally a few minutes, to listen to your body. Close your eyes and feel your breathing in your chest. Let your mind trace your blood flow from head to toe. Feel your body relax; where do you hold your stress?

Identifying your stress points will help you manage more stressful times. You see, realizing the point where stress is overwhelming you is the first step in good stress management. When the holidays bring additional stressors into our lives, we try to ignore that stress, putting on a “good face” for the family functions and parties that friends host, alongside our gift shopping and work responsibilities.

I remind you that breathing is the single most powerful stress-management tool. Feel your lungs fill with air by expanding your ribs like an accordion. Taking 3-5 slow and deep breaths during those stressful moments will help you reclaim your calm and provide clarity in your thinking.

During the holidays – and every other part of the year – set aside time to take care of you. Creating an exercise program with sensible eating habits is a great way to stay healthy. Even a 15 minute walk each day will clear your mind and give you more energy for the holiday party, and that partner meeting.

Here are some helpful points for better stress management this holiday season:

  1. No. It’s simple. It’s okay to refuse invitations from those who create stressful environments for you. You will be inundated with invitations to gatherings and festivities – you need only attend those which will be festive and in the spirit of the season for YOU.
  2. Family. This time of year can cause emotions to surface from our past. These may include grief, anger, or frustration – be aware of them, and how you are bringing them to the present. Choose time to spend with those who love you, allow them to support you.
  3. Control. You cannot control those around you. If you chose to attend a holiday function, know that you won’t be able to stop Cousin John from drinking too much, or attorney Bob from playing in the punch bowl. Use your breath to relax in those times where you feel the stress sitting in your body.
  4. Shopping. Let go of choosing that perfect gift every time. Sometimes the best gift is Y-O-U. Consider scheduling time with a friend instead of exchanging gifts. Consider volunteering together with an adult child rather than another gift card. Financial strain during the holidays causes unnecessary stress. There are plenty of alternatives to spending money, think outside the box (pun intended).
  5. Plan. You already know the holiday season will arrive long before December. You also know that your business plan and your budget are due at nearly the same time. Maybe you know that your practice lights up as the year comes to a close. Look at the month ahead and allot time for holiday shopping and your work responsibilities.

I recently acquired a book called “95 Tips for Reducing Holiday Stress”, thinking this would be a great help to me during the next few months. I plowed through it, feeling my chest tighten with each new “tip”. I found myself more anxious than ever, trying to incorporate all these new ideas into my routine. I realize the holiday season should be a joyful time for everyone.

I own my choices in gift giving, in party attendance, and in exercising moderation in my consumption during those aforementioned parties. I encourage you to do the same. With small changes, this holiday season can be the best yet.

About the author

Judy Hissong

Professional Athlete. Accredited Executive Coach. Certified Personal Trainer. Decade in legal management. I revel in maximizing human potential – coaching and training leaders to live from the inside out, creating and synergizing teams to balance flow and service, and speaking to audiences of all sizes on the power of our minds, managing stress, and a variety of other topics. Find me @judyhissong, email at, and learn more at

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