Less Grinch and More Fun:

What Individuals and Managers Can Do to Minimize Stress and Conflict During the Holidays


December 13, 2018

Written by Anh Mai-Windle,

Balancing Positions Conflict Resolution Specialist


The holiday season at its best is a time of joy, giving, and good cheer. It offers us the opportunity to count and share our blessings and enjoy time for ourselves and with loved ones. The flip side is that the holidays can also bring stress resulting in situations ripe for conflict. Conflict, in turn, can trigger stress. For many Americans, the stress and conflict of the holidays make it a period to survive rather than enjoy.


Forty-one percent of Americans admit that they work “too hard” to achieve a “perfect Christmas.”


According to a 2015 survey conducted by consumer health information site Healthline, sixty-two percent of participants characterized their stress level during the holidays as “very or somewhat” elevated. Only ten percent reported no stress during the holiday season. A study of 2,000 Americans conducted in December 2017 for the US Highbush Blueberry Council revealed that nearly a third of Americans described the holiday season as “frantic.” According to this research, the “festive stress” timeline sets in on December 13, becomes severe on December 18, and peaks at 2:05 pm on December 25. Forty-one percent of Americans admit that they work “too hard” to achieve a “perfect Christmas.” The results of a 2017 Accountemps survey similarly showed that the holiday season elevated stress levels at work.

The holiday tension can build due to a variety of factors. Financial demands of the season, balancing work and personal obligations, navigating family relationships, managing deadlines and schedules, regret for poor eating and fitness habits, shopping for gifts, waiting in lines or dealing with crowds, cooking, cleaning . . . all contribute to increased stress. Those susceptible to these pressures understandably find it a challenge to slow down and enjoy the season.

In addition to poor health, higher stress means more potential for conflict whether at work or at home. Stress can build and trigger an emotional eruption at unexpected times and in unexpected ways. These stress eruptions can fracture working and personal relationships. How we manage and handle stress and these eruptions determine whether conflict escalates or dissipates. The choices we make in this regard affect whether we enjoy a happy holiday season or strive to survive it.

Individuals and managers can do various things to relieve or manage stress and minimize conflict during the holiday season. Below are suggestions for making the holidays less grinchy and more fun.


What individuals can do:


*Assess – Decide what the holidays mean to you, prioritize how you spend your time, and maintain realistic expectations.


*Breathe – Most people manifest a physical response to stress. Consider what your body does. Do you feel a tightness in your muscles? Do you clench your teeth? Does your heart beat faster? Does your face flush? Knowing how your body expresses tension can cue you to respond in a way to relieve the stress. The easiest thing to do is to take a deep breath. It’s amazing how many of us hold our breath or take shorter breaths when faced with tension. Taking a moment to breathe and visualizing that breath can help to calm our body and allow us to assess the situation and our response better.


*Ask the important question and don’t sweat the small stuff – When an event, person, or thing prompts a stressful response, it can help to ask yourself, “So what?” Consider the bigger picture or your priorities. It never feels good when someone says or does something negative to you or something bad happens to you, but griping over it or dwelling on it doesn’t always help your situation. If you have difficulty explaining why something matters to you now, it most likely won’t matter later. Consider your priorities and stay focused on them rather than the small, ordinary things that can distract more than help you.


*Acknowledge your feelings, consider others, and be true to your character – Each of us reacts to events, situations, and people differently. We are entitled to our emotional responses. Acknowledging what we feel helps us to understand why we might say or do something and identify the stressors that prompt certain behavior. It likewise can help to recognize that, like us, others are responding to stress or other triggers in their lives. This is especially true during the holidays when many of us face similar pressure. Whether we choose to give someone else the benefit of the doubt, we can also consider who we are and strive to be as individuals. Thomas Jefferson is quoted as having said,

“Sir, I will treat you as a gentleman,

not because you are one, but because I am one.”

How we respond to stress or conflict reflects upon us as individuals.


*Make time for yourself – The focus on giving during the holidays often results in putting others’ needs or desires first. We often lose sight of the fact that the concept of giving is not just about being kind to others. It is also about being kind to yourself. Taking the time to indulge yourself in some simple way helps to abate stress.


*Count your blessings – While it can be easy to identify that which is stressful or not going our way, it is important to maintain perspective. There is always something to value and appreciate. Consider the people, experiences, and memories that make you smile. Remembering the things in life for which you are grateful can help to refocus your attention on the positive and lessen the load that weighs you down.


*Plan – The holidays are a busy time of year with much to do and little time to do it all. It can be overwhelming. Identifying goals, setting a schedule, and taking action towards achieving those goals can help to empower you. By planning ahead while allowing for some flexibility, you can move forward towards achieving your goals and lessen the stress.


*Seek help – There is only so much you can do on your own. The holidays can exacerbate negative emotions or stressful situations. It’s okay to ask for help. Reach out to friends or loved ones, or seek professional help. Share what you’re feeling or needing. Sometimes confiding in others can help alleviate the weight of heavy emotions caused by stress. Other times disclosing the pressures you are experiencing or identifying what you need can enable others to offer you better support.


What managers can do:


*Become aware – Managers should gauge staff for stress and potential conflict. They can do so by paying attention to colleagues. Ask questions, listen and offer genuine opportunities to be heard, so that employees can share concerns or problems. Managers should also look for signs of stress, like a decline in performance, teamwork, or morale; behavioral anomalies; increased absenteeism; or negative health symptoms.


*Engage – Speak with your team and explore ideas that might reduce stress, avoid burnout, and boost morale in the office during the holidays. The 2017 Accountemps survey revealed that the work-related benefits that brought the most holiday cheer were year-end bonuses, more flexible work schedules, and more paid vacation. Apart from these benefits, managers should share available resources to assist employees. These may include counseling or administrative support. Managers might also consider offering personal coaching with employees.


*Focus on issues and trouble-shooting – Managers can play a pivotal role in helping to identify stressors and developing solutions. For example, deadlines generally induce stress as staff work toward completing associated tasks. Managers can consider adjusting deadlines or delegating tasks to others. In working to manage the stress on a team, it is important that managers focus on issues and working to solve problems, not personalities. Stress stemming from personality conflicts can be managed and minimized, but are not issues that can be resolved. Personality differences are considerations that a manager can bear in mind when tasking work, but personalities are not problems to be solved.


As shown in the data discussed above, stress and conflict increase during the holidays. The “festive stress” timeline indicates that today, December 13, is when such stress sets in before becoming severe in five days on December 18.


Are you or your team prepared?


What will you do to avoid the pitfalls of holiday stress? Hopefully, these tips will help you and/or your team minimize stress, reduce prospects for conflict, and enjoy a happy holiday season. Should you wish to explore conflict coaching, think that your team can benefit from facilitation, or desire other conflict resolution services, our Balancing Positions team would be happy to help. Please contact our Participant Services Department by calling (509) 460-3104; press “0” or sending an email to services@balancingpositions.com. For additional information, please go to our website at http://balancingpositions.com.


We at Balancing Positions wish you and yours a joyful, fun, and peaceful holiday season!


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