Lessons from the Holiday Trenches: 7 Tips to Help Overcome Holiday Work Stress

Shana Gardner, Operations

Everyone knows about holiday stress—coordinating visits with friends and family, finding the perfect gifts for said friends and family, navigating crowds of shoppers who are also finding the perfect gifts for friends and family… But it’s easy to forget about holiday work stress, until you’re in the middle of it.

What do I know about holiday work stress, you ask?  After all, I work at the next best thing to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, right?  Well, yes, but even Willy Wonka had stress!  I stepped into a new position in 2018 as part of a promotion and coverage for a colleague on maternity leave, while still retaining aspects of my former position.  It was a whole new experience, but I had it!  I could do it all!  Until the day I couldn’t and the stress ate me alive.  I powered through and got it done (with a great support network, because we are the “Make It Happen” team), but the experience taught me some things about handling holiday work stress that I’d like to share:

1. Establish a maintainable organizational system.

Note maintainable in that!  Develop a system that works for you and, tempting though it might be, don’t overcomplicate it; the best organizational system in the world doesn’t do you any good if you don’t have time to use it.  Try to establish it early enough that you can change it if it doesn’t work for you, too.  Don’t wait until after Hallowe’en to do it—do it now so you have time to tweak anything that isn’t as awesome as you’d thought it would be.

2. Find available back-up and use it.

Asking for help can be one of the hardest things to do, whether it’s because you don’t want to give up control or because it makes you feel like you failed if you pass something off.  Odds are in a larger office there are people whose jobs overlap with yours and/or may have more time available.  Find those people and make arrangements before the holiday build-up hits for them to assist you.  It’s much easier to train someone in tasks they’d be able to help you with before you’re both in full-on crunch mode.  Running a one-person office?  Recruit a family member (or maybe even the neighbor who’s looking to get out of the house a few hours a week) to help with light tasks like filing.  You’ll be amazed how much handing over even the smallest tasks can help your productive time!

3. Don’t obsess over clearing your desk.

It’s tempting to keep working until your desk is clear—if you don’t, the work will still be there in the morning.  On the other hand, the work will still be there in the morning, so you can come at it fresh, more capable to power through it, and less likely to make mistakes.  Prioritize the work by deadlines and do what needs to be done, but don’t burn yourself out by thinking you have to handle everything immediately.

4. Make time for yourself.

Me-time is a powerful restorative.  Whether you’re spending time with friends or family, partaking of your favorite hobby, enjoying a relaxing time at a spa, or something else, take some time away from work.  If possible, turn off your phone (or at least your email notifications) and disconnect your work brain so you can immerse yourself in simply enjoying life.  Even if it’s only an hour or two, taking that time away from work is an excellent way to clear your mind so you can go back with a brighter mentality.

5. Surround yourself with things that make you happy.

I’m a cat lady, but cats are rather difficult to manage in a busy office, so I’ve improvised; as many desk accessories as possible are cat-themed, including my sticky note holder, tape dispenser, bookends, and cell phone stand.  I’ve got a lucky cat knick-knack in a rack, a derpy cat hanging from my wall, and a cat-patterned fabric pencil bag.  Looking at them makes me smile, so every now and then I’ll take a breath, glance over them, and enjoy the reminder of something I love.  It doesn’t have to be quite that extreme; maybe it’s a favorite coffee cup or photos of loved ones, a colorful bouquet of flowers or a hardy succulent.

6. Get away from your desk.

Most people these days seem to have a fitness device, whether it’s a Fitbit, Apple Watch, or something else.  Many of these devices give you reminders to move or stand—don’t ignore them!  Don’t have one?  Set a reminder on your system or an alarm on your phone, and take a minute to walk away.  Get a drink, use the restroom, or just go for a short stroll.  If you’re in an office and get a lunch or break period, use it.  Don’t just eat at your desk as you work through it.  You’ve earned that break—take advantage of it!

7. Be generous with yourself.

Now, I’m not talking about retail therapy—not that kind of generosity.  Rather, think of the Golden Rule and do unto yourself as you would have others do unto you.  Don’t berate yourself for taking five minutes to yourself when your task list is full, or because you didn’t come in early or work late every day.   It’s unacceptable for a colleague to belittle your efforts, so why should you make an exception for yourself?  We are our own greatest critics, as the saying goes, but sometimes you just need to tell your inner critic to be quiet and focus on the good things you’re accomplishing.

There you have it: my life lessons for working through the holidays with less stress.  Hopefully you’ve found at least one helpful nugget here—just because the weather outside is frightful it doesn’t mean that your holiday work stress has to be!