How to deal with holiday stress, according to a psychologist

Workplace psychologist says there are ways to cope with the mounting stress, depression and anxiety that many workers feel over the holiday season.

Workers often deal with increased anxiety and depression, says Jennifer Newman

Shopping, travel and endless Christmas parties can mean increased stress and anxiety for people around the holiday season, says workplace psychologist Jennifer Newman. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The holiday countdown has begun. And for many workers, it's a time when stress starts to mount.

Between shopping for gifts, planning holiday dinners, hectic work schedules and annual Christmas parties, it's not uncommon to feel a little overwhelmed over the holiday season, according to workplace psychologist Jennifer Newman.

Newman joined host Rick Cluff on CBC's The Early Edition to offer tips on how to deal with the stress.

Rick Cluff: What kinds of stress are workers under during this time of year?

Jennifer Newman: It's a wonderful time of year — but it also comes with a lot of pressure.

Workers encounter difficulty juggling work and home demands. They can feel depressed and anxious when the holidays are associated with sad memories. There can be financial pressure to spend.

Unrealistic expectations are more likely during this time of year. And there's pressure to be happy or make everyone else happy.

Workers can encounter increased symptoms of perfectionism and social anxiety around this time of year.

You mentioned problems juggling work and home demands, how do workers cope with this?

Many, unfortunately, skimp on sleep — it's the first thing to go when workers have too much to do, which leads to making mistakes and having to re-do work or snapping at the family or being irritable with co-workers.

What about perfectionism, can it become more of a problem during the holiday season?

Workers with this tendency may find it harder to manage.

Perfectionism during this time revolves around making things perfect for loved ones. And at the same time, trying to produce exceptionally high quality work, while on the job.

It's impossible — perfectionists tend to have unrealistic expectations for themselves.

If you are perfectionistic, be aware of this as we go into December. This year, maybe choose one thing that really matters most about the holidays.

Maybe it's the food, decorating, visiting people or doing seasonal activities.

Focus on applying perfectionist standards to just one area, then give yourself permission to be imperfect everywhere else.

You mentioned workers feel depression more acutely this time of year? 

The holidays are a sad time for some.

Memories of loved ones not near or who have passed, divorce, empty-nest issues or being away from home can take a toll.

The pressure to be happy, because it's supposed to be a happy time of year, is hard.

If you feel depressed and notice it gets worse this time of year, book an appointment with your EAP [employee assistance provider] or use your extended benefits to see a psychologist.

Identify what situations may be harder to get through than others and plan for it. Limit time at family gatherings if you anticipate conflict, and connect with friends or family with whom you feel comfortable and safe.

What about workers with social anxiety, how can they get through having to mix and mingle?

Dreading holiday get-togethers is common.

Making small talk with acquaintances or colleagues is excruciating for socially anxious workers — yet, it can be important to one's career and for maintaining good relationships with co-workers.

Many feel afraid they won't know what to say. So, think about some seasonal questions before you head to the company party.

Things like: What are your plans for the holidays? Or, check out the news and pick a heart-warming or funny story you heard.

Steer clear of controversial topics, it'll increase anxiety if a disagreement develops. Resolve to say "Hi" to people you recognize, even if you don't remember their names.

You mentioned financial pressure. How can workers handle that?

Create a budget and shop with a written list — don't go into a store or shop online without one. Steer clear of browsing.

And if you do browse, browse with a purpose. If you are just looking for ideas, stay focused on that.

Ignore anything to do with pressure to buy, like, 'Hurry it won't last long.'

Don't shop with a credit card unless the money is already in the bank.

The holidays are notorious for building completely unrealistic expectations for oneself, including having to buy expensive things for loved ones.

With files from CBC's The Early Edition

To listen to the full interview, click on the audio labelled: How to deal with holiday stress, according to a psychologist