A woman working from home

Feeling more stressed at work before Christmas? Here’s how to cope

Posted by for Mental Health

Finding it hard to switch-off from work in the run-up to Christmas? These simple tips will make things a little easier.

After all the stress, anxiety and general chaos that the last year has brought us, it’s safe to say we’re all in need of a break. 

From the rise of the Omicron variant over the last couple of weeks to the challenges of hybrid working, we’ve had a lot to deal with over the last 12 months and taking some time to relax and recharge has never been so important.

Pandemic aside, however, there’s one more stressful hurdle to deal with before we head off. Indeed, while the holiday itself may be relaxing, the process of taking that break – of tying up loose ends and signing off – can, ironically, be quite stressful.  

“It’s common to feel last-minute pressure before switching on your out of office message,” explains Gemma Leigh Roberts, organisational psychologist and founder of The Resilience Edge. “Knowing you’ll be taking time off from work may cause you to experience pressure as you feel you need to complete a number of tasks before signing off.”

According to Roberts, the pressures of working from home – which many have had to return to this week – may also be making this pre-holiday stress even worse.

“Over the last two years, many of us have been working from home and trying our best to create routines that helped us to keep motivated in a sea of uncertainty,” she explains. “For many, creating a productive routine has been a tricky journey, and the anticipation of losing that routine for a while could create a sense of unease.”

On top of this, there’s also the fact that the rise of the Omicron variant has left us unable to take part in many of the ‘winding down’ activities we’re used to taking part in at this time of year. Without the familiar presence of the Christmas party and drinks with friends to remind us to slow down, it’s likely many of us will struggle to switch off as we transition into the break.

All in all, then, there’s plenty of factors adding to the kind of pre-holiday anxiety we might already feel at this time of year. 

So how can we deal with this extra pressure and make sure we’re actually able to switch off come 25 December?

A woman making a list
Work stress at Christmas: taking five minutes to prioritise your work can help you to work out which tasks are most important.

Show yourself some kindness

As we wind down to Christmas, it’s more important than ever to show yourself some kindness and take the pressure off. If you’re doing your best, that’s all you can do – don’t stress yourself out by trying to get millions of tasks done before you take a break.

“This year has been a year like no other – it’s been a lot to deal with psychologically,” Roberts explains. 

“You might be feeling more stressed and anxious because of challenges and changes you’ve been through this year, and that can make anticipation over the holidays even more tense. So be kind to yourself and acknowledge you’re doing your best. Try to let go of things that aren’t important.”

To try and differentiate between the tasks that absolutely need to be done and those that can wait until after the break, why not sit down and spend some time prioritising your work? 

Not only is prioritisation a great way to manage stress, it’ll also help you to feel more organised and make the most of the time you do have left before the break. 

Practice mindfulness

When you’re feeling stressed about how much work you have to get done, it’s all too easy to get carried away with the business of life and forget to live in the moment. 

Practising mindfulness can help you to focus on the present and feel more in control of what’s going on.

“Although you may be feeling busy and overwhelmed about what you need to get done before the Christmas break, try to find even a small amount of time to practice mindfulness,” Roberts says. “If you can find some time to practice mindfulness this will help to reset your thinking and potentially leave you feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the challenges you face.

“Research also tells us that practising mindfulness can help to reduce stress and anxiety.”

Talk about how you’re feeling

It’s all too easy to hibernate when you’re feeling stressed or worried but sharing those feelings with someone else is a great way to alleviate some pressure and reassess the problem you’re facing.

“Book in a call with a friend, mentor, therapist or coach and talk through the pressure you’re feeling in the lead up to taking time off,” Roberts recommends. “Social support is one of the most important factors that helps to build your resilience, so connect with those around you who can offer support.”

A woman speaking on Zoom
Work stress at Christmas: sharing how you're feeling with others can help to relieve some of the pressure.

Do something fun

Just because you might not have a work Christmas party to look forward to, doesn’t mean you can’t schedule in something fun to help you transition from ‘work’ mode to ‘holiday mode.

“It’s important to remember what brings you joy – even in the crazy year that’s 2021,” Roberts says. 

“If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or stressed, try to book in one joyful activity. It could be going for a run, a virtual cocktail with your best friend or watching a whole season of something you’ve been wanting to get around to.”

She continues: “We may have gone through a lot this year, but we can find joy in the small things too and at times joy can be the perfect antidote to stress.

“Even if you can’t manage this before you log off, book in some joyful activities for after you’ve switched off from work, as this may help to give you something to look forward to and get you through the pressure you’re feeling.”

If adapting to the new world of work is taking its toll on your mental health, you’re not alone. From the isolation of being separated from colleagues while working from home and the stress of relying on technology to struggles with concentration, confidence and setting boundaries, there are a number of reasons why you might find this time particularly challenging.

So, what can we do about it? We’ve got a plan.

Stylist’s Work It Out series aims to give you the tools and resources you need to take care of your mental health at work. From completing your Work 5 A Day to dealing with issues including anxiety, loneliness and stress, we’ll be exploring all aspects of work-related wellbeing, whether you’re working from home, adopting a hybrid arrangement or planning on going back to the office full-time.

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.