Managing Stress: 3 Ways for the Holidays and Beyond

The holidays can be brutal for those of us who are looking for a way to pull the most of our hours, for our greatest productivity. I’m the last person you would call a Grinch, but this time of year can test my limits. There are way too many events, deadlines and expectations to fit into each 24 hours. This makes the holidays a great teacher of an important lesson in managing our time and energy: Less is more.

Stay centered

I had a holiday party I declined to attend a few nights ago, as I looked at my schedule I realized that I just didn’t have my best level of energy to give to that event. Saying no can be hard, and for many of us, guilt-inducing. There’s a real fear of missing out. But saying no opens up other possibilities that can restore energy, not consume it. When I said no to that holiday party, I stayed home, played holiday music, wrapped gifts with my daughters, and grilled out. We built a big fire and the change of pace helped me refill my tank (and those most important to me). This is so important! Making time for renewing ourselves, for caring and respecting and improving who we are, isn’t a copout. It’s a strategic investment.

In the “Seven Habits of Highly Successful People,” Stephen R. Covey called this habit “sharpening the saw.” He advocates (and this makes so much sense) for balancing the physical, mental, spiritual, and social/emotional spheres of life. When one takes over, the whole person suffers. That night off did wonders for my energy level and filled my “family time tank.” I love holiday gatherings, but only when I can refill my energy tank by sharing with the ones I love most.

Stay true to rituals

We’ve talked before about how important it is to know your why and to hold onto it. This time of year, sometimes the expectations of traditions—gift planning and shopping, holiday cards, events and obligations—cause more stress than joy. It can be hard to refocus on why you’re doing all this to begin with. This is where a keystone habit really can help. For me, holiday stress is handled much more easily when I stay true to my early morning ritual routine: coffee, a big glass of lemon water, focusing on gratitude, and contemplating specific actions to support the people I love most.

Stay active

Get in daily exercise if you can, of any length and intensity. This can seem counterintuitive to the person who decides not to exercise because of the perception that fatigue will follow. Physical activity, more than almost anything else, keeps me sane during times of great stress. It erases any negative thinking and brings clarity to my perceptions and decisions. One of my favorite books on managing stress is “The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal,” by Jim Loehr. It was published in 2005, but its observations are timeless, especially its emphasis on our physical connection to our work and goals. I love this definition: “To be fully engaged, we must be physically energized, emotionally connected, mentally focused and spiritually aligned with a purpose beyond our immediate self-interest.

Full engagement begins with feeling eager to get to work in the morning, equally happy to return home in the evening and capable of setting clear boundaries between the two. It means being able to immerse yourself in the mission you are on, whether that is grappling with a creative challenge at work, managing a group of people on a project, spending time with loved ones or simply having fun. Full engagement implies a fundamental shift in the way we live our lives.” For me, that engagement is fueled through physical fitness. If you’re missing that level of connection, trying a consistent commitment to working out. Even short spurts of walking and stretching can help you stay sharp during the holidays.

Your Game Changer Takeaway

More isn’t better.  Lots of people with “more” are miserable. The holidays present us with such a smorgasbord of traditions and expectations that few people can meet. If you’re looking at that and feeling stressed, practice a great new habit: Focus on what is essential for you and remove the rest. Staying grounded, true to rituals and physically active are three key ways to managing stress and energy levels during the holidays and all year round.

The Molly Fletcher Company inspires leaders, teams and organizations to kick-start growth. A keynote speaker and author, Molly draws on her decades of experiences working as a sports agent. Her company’s Game Changer Negotiation Training workshops teach business people the framework for successful negotiating, so that you can close more deals while building stronger relationships. Sign up here to receive our weekly newsletter and subscribe to the Game Changers with Molly Fletcher podcast on iTunes.