Shake the blues away: Coping with stress during the holiday season

November’s here, and no matter how you look at it, there will be some stressful weeks ahead. The days are colder; the nights are longer; the holidays are coming (along with their assorted stresses); it’s year-end soon, and then the long, cold winter. Yikes.

This time of year can be very stressful for those involved in a small business, and more so for those who work at home. It may be too late to develop a year-end strategy, but it’s never too late to develop a better strategy for 2015. Use the work time now to plan ahead.

If the workload is too heavy now, hire help to lighten the load. Many people are willing to work short-term projects and limited hours to build up their holiday spending bank.

Don’t let the holidays get you down. Many people find them extremely stressful, because they tend to bring out the worst in family interactions, and they set expectations for the “perfect” holiday (which seldom happens). If you stop beating yourself up over how to make a perfect holiday, find the perfect gift, or keep some balance in the check book…and instead concentrate on the joys of the holidays, you’ll ride through them better.

So…

1. Pace yourself. Conquer the frenzy of the season with times for fun and relaxation. Get away from the desk, the ringing phones, the crowds at the mall, and enjoy a networking event, or a holiday performance, or a walk in the woods. Consider stress-reducing exercise, meditation, or other physical means to help you cope with stress and quickly reduce its effects. Crowds add to stress. If the lunch hour is your busy work time, take your lunch hour after the lunch rush. The lines are shorter. Malls and shops are packed on weekends. Hit the mall on a Monday, when it’s a ghost town.

2. Reduce the stress. Maeve Ryan, by day, communications and marketing director for a Connecticut independent school, is also owner of the Hartford, CT-based Grace Kelly Yoga. Ryan advocates yoga as a stress reducer, and leads workshops in “Lightening The Load: How To Achieve Emotional Balance.”

“Yoga teaches people how to become more attuned to their physical and emotional bodies through the process of thought observation,” she says. “The reason yoga is so helpful in relieving stress is because it requires us to focus on the breath and live in the present moment. As Lao Tzu said, ‘If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.’ And because we tend to get caught up in external events when we are stressed, the process of taking deeps breaths can bring the focus back to the present moment…and back to ourselves.”

Victor Acquista MD, founder of Pathways Integral Health and Wellness in New Mexico and the author of “Pathways to Health: An Integral Guide,” recommends simple exercises.  ”In-chair activities such as calf pumping and neck/shoulder rolling can improve circulation and reduce muscle tension,” he says. “That’s particularly important if you are spending a lot of time seated at work. A 20-minute walk is good for the  body, mind, and soul. Focused breathing and meditation are available anywhere and anytime. Using the belly muscles helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is associated with relaxation and directly counteracts  sympathetic activation which occurs with stress.”

Acquista also advises, “Don’t over schedule yourself since this adds to stress related to time management. Remember to get sufficient rest. Remind yourself about what is especially enjoyable about the holidays–good food and quality time with friends and family.

3. Change the scene. If you’re sitting at your desk all day, frustration sets in. Get up; walk around. If you work at home, don’t eat at your desk. Time in a different room with a different view is a good change. Don’t forget that we all need sunlight–it’s a mood booster.

Acquista reminds us to seek out the sun. “Our circadian rhythms are sensitive to the day/night cycle. Certain neurotransmitter production is triggered by exposure to sunlight. Neurotransmitter balance affects our mood. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) results from imbalance related to insufficient light exposure and some people are much more sensitive to this effect. Ordinary lighting does not counteract this, so it is important to try and get some sun exposure or purchase lighting that mimics the spectrum in sunlight.”

John Arvanitis, a social media consultant, seeks a change of scene regardless of the weather. “I try to go to a coffee shop for at least half my working day, just so I can have another space to work in, and feel less like a recluse,” he says.

George Lenker, the Northampton, MA, freelance writer (whose work has appeared in numerous print and online publications, including the New York Times) works at home. “I have a dog and I walk him between three and five times a day depending how freezing it is. That gets me out and about. I’m also lucky enough to live downtown in Northampton, where a friendly café or restaurant or bar is less than five minutes away. My only problem is trying to balance how much money I can spend going out to these places without it becoming detrimental to my income.”

I try to schedule my meetings, so I can get of the house once a day (I’d be heading to Starbucks anyway). I combine that meeting time with a post office, supermarket, and bank run. I bump into people I know and recharge for work.

4. Remember, it’s all about people. There’s nothing like a coffee (or tea) break to decompress. Put the time to good use. Schedule a coffee with a client, a vendor, or colleague. It’s a chance to plan for the coming year, a time to thank someone for their patronage or service, and a chance for a laugh.

When we network or interact with people we like, we feel better about ourselves, and as one person unknown to me once stated, “A good friend is worth 1,000 relatives.”

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Mark G. Auerbach is principal at Mark G. Auerbach Public Relations, a Springfield, MA, based marketing, public relations, development and events consultancy. You can find more information about Mark at Facebook and LinkedIn.

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