I carry a list in my purse that if lost, would mean the end of my sanity.
The list contains all the presents I have bought so far for Christmas, what I have left to buy and all the things I need to do before I take time off for the holidays. If I misplaced that list, I might just have to go straight to the bourbon without the eggnog.
But I know I'm making a mistake. I've put myself into this frenzy, and decided to write myself a list of reasons why my attitude makes no sense. I'm going to take my own advice, and hope you will also. Here's a story I did for Gannett/USAToday on getting a better handle on holiday stress:
Before the recession hit, work during the holiday season often slowed down a bit.
The slower pace allowed you to get off work early enough to do some holiday shopping, and weekends could be devoted to spending more time with family or baking instead of working or checking email.
But more workers are doing the job of more than one person these days and everyone faces an increasing demand to perform at a high level no matter the time of year. Workers are forever being reminded of how lucky they are to have a job, and stress is growing.
In a recent study by CompPsych, two-thirds of employees say their stress levels are high; 29 percent say they come to work too stressed to be effective on five or more days a year, up 10 percentage points from last year.
When you're facing the holiday season with more personal demands, that stress can grow. If you feel like you're being pulled from all directions, here are some tips to help get your life in better balance:
• Just say no. Maybe you've always baked cookies for the office party.
Not this year. Stop by a bakery, buy cookies, put them on a plate you've brought from home and you're all set. It's not so much that you're saying no to other people, as much as you are giving yourself permission to say no to yourself and do things differently.
• Use positive self-talk. If you get annoyed with co-workers who have had too much to drink at the holiday party or who whine incessantly about their workload, remind yourself that their behavior is just a passing event in your life.
Make a list of all the positive things in your life, like a great family, fun friends or the joy of walking your dog. Consult this list every time you start to feel the stress creep over you.
• Get out. Remove yourself from surroundings that are getting you down.
Whether you're battling crowds in a mall, stuck in a cubicle or working in a home office, change your surroundings when you get stressed. Ducking outside and breathing deeply can help release tension. Even going into a bathroom and washing your hands has been shown to relieve stress.
• Tell yourself "even if." For example, even if you have to work late on a project, you will still spend time with people you love over the holidays.
Or even if you can't cook the perfect holiday meal, you've got a great take-out menu that will come in handy.
• Seek your bliss. Some people love those corny holiday movies, while those classics make others feel depressed because they think their own lives don't measure up.
So what if you want to watch old I Love Lucy re-runs instead of It's a Wonderful Life? The things that make you happy are not measured against someone else. They are unique to you, so surround yourself with what makes you happy.
• Leave regrets behind. Don't feel bad that you didn't get a co-worker a gift when she brought you a jar of homemade jam.
Giving your thanks sincerely is what she's after, not a chance to bring you down. Don't regret the things you haven't done but savor the things you've accomplished. Think about the work you've done this year under difficult circumstances, the things you've done to help out others without being asked. Those accomplishments easily should outweigh any regrets.
• Make your body a priority. You may feel that there aren't enough hours in the day to get everything done, and if you just skip a meal or give up a few hours of sleep, you can meet all your demands and obligations.
Unfortunately, your body may not go along with your brain's idea.
Failing to eat right, exercise and get enough rest is a recipe for sickness and injury. And failing to listen to your body's demands may result in some serious consequences.
What others suggestions do you have for coping with the season's demands?