With Thanksgiving a few weeks away and the New Year around the corner, I thought this was an opportune time to talk about strategies for combating workplace stress during the holidays. We are moving into the season of the heart, a time of year when we have an opportunity to reflect on all aspects of our lives, careers, families, and health, and acknowledge all we have to be grateful for.

So many of us get caught in the whirlwind of the holidays that we can become distracted – moving mindlessly and not pausing to appreciate and enjoy the moments the season offers. We get overwhelmed with the to-do’s of the season and yet, we have a choice about how to embrace the holidays and spread some cheer in the workplace.  

Holiday cheer and workplace stress

How will your organization spread holiday cheer and help diffuse the level of stress your employees may be experiencing? The holidays are all about heart – how we choose to show our love and gratitude to ourselves, colleagues and those we care for. And yet, how many of us truly communicate our appreciation to those who made an impact on us during the year?

Think about the teams that supported you, the feedback given to you that helped you grow, the acknowledgements for a job well done, the areas and relationships that were challenging and made you stretch.   

Think about the teams that supported you, the feedback given to you that helped you grow, the acknowledgements for a job well done, the areas and relationships that were challenging and made you stretch. @katiebsmith #SmartTalkHR @RiseSmart https://bit.ly/2QvnDQ4

In a world where we are driven by global technology, texting and cell phones, it is easy to lose sight of our ability to touch each other with our hearts by offering a hug, a smile, eye to eye contact and a heartfelt gesture or note about how you were impacted in a positive way.

Managing your own stress

In order for us to create a heartfelt culture through the holidays, it is important to look at how we are managing our own stress on an individual basis. When we are experiencing frustration and are overwhelmed, we have the opportunity to be present with how we are feeling and managing our own energy, thoughts and behaviors.

Related content: Stress Reduction Training for Better Employee Engagement

It is important to stay present with how we are feeling and ask ourselves two key questions:

  1. How are you experiencing tension in your body?

The first step is to notice how you react to the tension you are experiencing. You typically feel tension in your body if you feel frustrated, angry, or depressed. Tension in the body equals resistance in the mind, and you are likely pushing against your frustration to try to change or fix it so that it doesn't feel so uncomfortable. Creating more resistance in your mind creates more stress and tension in your body. 

  1. How can I release the frustrated state of mind and body and feel more relaxed?

I am talking about strategies you can implement in the moment that move you into a state of ease, or at least less tension, in as little as 1-3 minutes. Chris Grivas, co-author of The Innovative Team: Unleashing Creative Potential for Breakthrough Results, calls this the “excursion technique.” When you get away from an uncomfortable feeling or problem for a while, you feel more relaxed, and answers to the toughest problems appear. Managing the tension gets you out of your head and into your body. It could be taking a long and deep breath, getting up from your chair and stretching, taking a walk around the block, or doing a yoga pose. The most effective method of releasing tension is different for everyone and only you know what feels right for you. 

Shifting your tension into ease

Being present to tension helps you manage it more effectively. It offers the awareness that transition is in the works, and it is an opportunity to grow, expand, and allow.

Being present to tension helps you manage it more effectively. It offers the awareness that transition is in the works, and it is an opportunity to grow, expand, and allow. @katiebsmith #SmartTalkHR @RiseSmart https://bit.ly/2QvnDQ4

A few ideas to ponder to help shift your stress into ease:

  • Stretch your body
  • Take a walk around the block – better yet, have a walking meeting when you haven’t made time for a walking break.
  • Tune into Brain FM, https://brain.fm/  – an app that offers music designed for the brain to enhance focus, relaxation, meditation, naps and sleep within 10-15 minutes of use.

Studies show that 50 percent of our happiness is biological based, and that 10 percent is based on our life circumstances and choices we make that impact our life satisfaction. That leaves 40 percent of our happiness unaccounted for and up to us to shape.

Employee engagement and the happiness factor

As a company that is interested in creating more employee engagement, consider putting some time and attention toward initiatives that will help your team experience less stress and more joy during the holiday season this year.

Here are the three components that research has found that factors into our happiness:

  1. Repeat behavior that makes you feel good – yoga, taking the scenic route home from work, being with friends and family.
  2. Immerse yourself in whatever you are doing – when we do this we are in a state of flow and connected to something bigger than us.
  3. Do something that serves the greater good – meaningful work or volunteering.

Dam Buettner, author of Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zone Way, a book about the happiest regions in the world, characterized Denmark as the most thriving country in the world in terms of well-being. He attributes some of this to the fact that the majority of the population belongs to a social club.  

Related content: How to Build Healthier Work Environments

The secret to working with the 40 percent of happiness that we have control over lies in non-material things.

Here are a few fun ideas for spreading holiday joy, relieving stress, and getting your creative juices and those of your employees flowing!


  1. Have a Secret Santa activity  Instead of gifts, spread words of appreciation and acknowledgement.
  2. Holiday party fun – Go around the room and have each person answer two questions:
    • Who had the most positive impact on you this year in supporting you to grow?
    • What about this team are you most grateful for?
  3. Gratefulness day – Set aside one day a week where everyone focuses on complimenting at least 3 people throughout the day, and fully receiving the compliment by letting the person know how it makes them feel.
  4. Yoga with a twist  Have a special laughter yoga class.
  5. Take the pulse  Take a survey of your employees and ask what happiness boosting traditions they would like to have at the office.
  6. Dance like no one is watching  Incorporate dance breaks like this office  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vy1o4kaCoOU – if some employees don’t like to dance, they will be guaranteed to laugh.
  7. Daily stress advice  Have a daily stress technique circulated to each person’s inbox every day throughout the holiday season. It could be a breathing technique, a suggestion to walk with a colleague at lunch, a block out time for silence, or a set time for everyone to stop, close their eyes and breathe.
  8. SHHHHH!  Have one of the offices become a quiet room with low lights, soft music and relaxing chairs where no technology or speaking is allowed – just time to rest and decompress.
  9. More ideas  Check out resources on HeartMath, www.heartmath.com,  to learn positive emotion-focused techniques that help individuals effectively replace stressful thoughts and emotional patterns with positive perceptions and emotions.

What way of being will you choose this holiday season? Will you choose to stay in your head and buy into the belief that there is not enough time; that you have to purchase a certain present for a certain someone and put yourself under stress? You have a choice to embrace and incorporate practices that activate matters of the heart this holiday season and support each other in relaxing and having fun, even if it's only for a moment. The moments add up.

Create a heart-centric culture, ignite your employee engagement, and support each other in enjoying the holidays with less stress and more joy!

09 November 2018

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