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Holiday Stress – Secondhand

Christmas is approaching fast with lots of different tasks to take care of: corporate and personal gifts, Christmas cards, parties and receptions, responding to charity donation requests, visiting those on the “nice” list, etc.  And that is just your own to-do-list! You want to enjoy the festive season but sometimes it feels a bit hard to catch your breath.

A few years ago a friend of mine told me that she chose a word for her New Year’s resolution: “Deliberate”. Rather than waiting for the New Year, let’s make it a year round word and start using it now.

An article I came across recently about was about secondhand stress. Similar to allowing secondhand smoke affect your physical health, this is about letting your mood be affected by the stress that our colleagues sometimes radiate, especially around the holidays.

Our brains are programmed to pick up on signals all around us, including others’ emotions. Whether it’s an irritable sales attendant or an agitated coworker/boss/employee, just seeing someone look stressed can make us feel anxious. During the lead up to holidays, the increased amount of time spent interacting with others heightens the levels of “stress contamination”. This is especially true in the workplace, and even more so in an open office environment.  You pick up on others’ nonverbal cues, hear borderline ridiculous private phone conversations, and subconsciously absorb the anxiety surrounding you, which of course increases overall stress levels. It can be a vicious cycle.

So how do you mitigate secondhand stress? With deliberate effort. For example:

  • Reduce the word “busy” in conversations. Refrain from responding to “How are you?” with the word “busy”. EVERYONE says they are busy, so why not mix it up. Maybe tell them you are looking forward to the holiday break (hopefully you are fortunate enough to get one) and time with family and friends… even if you do have to wear reindeer antlers at gatherings just to appease your kids…
  • Change your response. When someone is negative, try to stretch your compassion muscles. We can’t know what is going on in everyone else’s lives so it is best not to assume people are just being nasty grinches for the sake of nastiness. Show compassion and it might be the kindness they need to improve their mood too.
  • Protect yourself. If you are going into a stressful situation, prepare yourself and your mental state. Breathe deeply, be aware of your own mood, and maybe even try to think of a few things you are grateful for. Starting off positively can help protect yourself and might even rub off on others.
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