Grace Under Pressure: How to Zap the Holiday Crazies

By MJ Plaster

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” right? Not necessarily. For many people, it’s second only to election season on the crazy scale. Between Thanksgiving and the New Year, there’s precious little time between work, professional functions, shopping, decorating, attending parties and hosting family-and-friend get togethers. The week before Christmas starts the “full-on crazy” period.

How can you keep up work performance and efficiently manage all the holiday tasks and cheer without coming unglued? Below you’ll find a few holiday scenarios along with suggestions to turn down the heat.

Setting Holiday Boundaries at Home
When your home life is in disarray, you can’t perform optimally at work. The holidays place a strain on family life. Without setting boundaries at home, one family member always carries the bulk of the load. Judging by the fact that you’re reading this article, it’s a good bet that someone is you.

Setting boundaries is a skill I acquired from watching my mother. Our family went in cycles. We divvied up holiday chores, and one by one, everyone slacked off until my mother was left to do everything herself. Then she would go on strike to make her point. Rinse, lather, repeat. We got by with exactly as much as she would allow—and your family will too if you don’t set boundaries. My mother made it abundantly clear that you can rein in recalcitrant family members, and if you stick to your guns, you will win.

Every family dynamic is different, but you will find one or more suggestions below that you can implement to help you ease holiday stress at home.

  • Trees don’t decorate themselves. Teenagers are the worst, but if you leave that tree bare long enough, someone will pitch in and help. Further, your house doesn’t have to resemble something out of Christmas Vacation.
  • You are probably not a personal shopper, but if you are, you don’t have to be your family’s personal shopper. The rest of the family can jolly well do their own holiday shopping.
  • No one died and left you chief present wrapper and bottle washer.
  • Once upon a time, the person who held the holiday dinner did all the cooking and cleanup. If you’re hosting the dinner for a crowd, you can ask everyone to bring a side dish. It’s also acceptable to use high-end disposable plates and glassware. Your house isn’t the Ritz, and even if you’re a stay-at-home parent, formal entertaining is so 1950s. Twenty-first century entertaining is meant to be fun, not stifling.
  • Simplify everything and tell the family to lower their expectations. If you’ve always catered your own parties, reduce the menu (and possibly the head count) and supplement with store-bought party platters.
  • Learn to accept help even if no one can do the job as well as you can.

Pamper Yourself
In addition to setting boundaries, make time to take care of yourself. Get as much sleep as possible, try to maintain your exercise regimen and watch what you eat. No one’s saying you must deprive yourself at holiday get-togethers. If you can start your day with a healthy smoothie instead of a Danish, it will make up for your eating sins later that day. Take a protein bar to work for a snack. Rely on healthy substitutions when you’re not partying, and never attend a party on an empty stomach. We don’t need to tell you to watch your alcohol consumption. You don’t want to work while you’re nursing a hangover.

If you don’t want to get a massage, book a mani-pedi and take advantage of the massage chairs. There’s no extra charge, and aside from feeling like you’ve died and gone to heaven, it relaxes tight muscles the rest of the day. Keep the feeling going by soaking in a hot bath with Epsom salt, baking soda and lavender essential oil at night.

Stick to Your Budget
Every holiday season, people overspend and then worry when the bills come due. Make a budget and stick to it. If your office exchanges gifts, give homemade goodies from the kitchen. You can whip up spice mixes, chutney and baked to help you stay within your budget.

Setting Office and Professional Boundaries
Everyone is frazzled during the holidays, so tempers are short. Use the tactics below to mitigate the crazy.

  • Take a break. Get away from the office for a few minutes. Take a brisk walk, or find some solitude for a few minutes.
  • Refuse to get sucked into arguments. Remember that your co-workers are also under stress, so don’t take anything personally.
  • Assume the Scarlett O’Hara role. Put off until tomorrow what doesn’t have to get done today. This is not meant as everyday advice, but it can serve you well during the holidays.
  • Send regrets. Be selective about attending professional parties so you have time to spend with family and friends.
  • Just say no. When co-workers ask if you’ll help with their load, you can refuse nicely.
  • When all else fails… breathe. Yoga International suggests 2–1 breathing, where you exhale twice as long as you inhale. “When we are under pressure, thinking stressful thoughts, we make ourselves tighter and more tense by inhaling longer than we’re exhaling,” the organization reports. You can do this anywhere: Start by simply breathing and becoming aware of inhaling and exhaling. Once you’ve relaxed, take three deep breaths, hold them for the same count, and then exhale to the count of six. Repeat several times. “When practiced correctly, 2-to-1 breathing eliminates volatile wastes from the lungs while calming and nurturing the nervous system.” If you’re experienced at deep breathing, you can inhale and exhale for higher counts.

Office and Professional Parties
Every family has a crazy Uncle Joe, and every office has a Creepy Joe. In light of the rampant sexual harassment accusations, it’s possible that Creepy Joe will mind his manners. It would behoove everyone to play it safe this year at office parties.

  • Avoid mistletoe.
  • Dress appropriately. You’re not entering on the red carpet.
  • If alcohol is served, watch your intake.
  • Forbes suggests limiting conversation to safe subjects.

Office and networking parties are an extension of the everyday workplace, so act accordingly to stay out of trouble. Remember, you’re under a microscope every minute you’re in a professional setting.

This will pass in a few weeks, and life will return to normal at home and at work. At that point, you can begin to break your New Year’s resolutions.