A Holiday Survival Guide, Part One: Work

By Elisabeth Flannagan, MS Ed., LAC

You’re not alone if you feel under-enthusiastic about partaking in holiday cheer. Between the gaudy decorations, the same three Christmas songs on repeat, and the obnoxiously happy people flitting around, it’s no surprise that there’s spike in mental health issues around the holidays. This is the first article in a two-part survival guide to help you get through the holiday season. The next article will offer suggestions for navigating family and home situations. This piece focuses on managing holiday-related stress in the workplace.

Unless you’re a CEO and decide to ban Christmas music at your office (in which case, can I come work for you?), you probably don’t have much control over your work environment. The holidays can add a new layer of anxiety and frustration on top of regular work stress.

Below are some strategies for surviving work when you’re totally not a holiday person, either by coping with the discomfort or by consciously adjusting your mindset in a positive way.

Coping with holiday-induced misery

  1. Bring headphones to work and maybe download a white noise app so you can get a respite from any intolerable music coming from your coworker’s cubicle.
  2. Designate a “life-line” — someone you can call or text when you need a reminder that there is life outside of the office.
  3. Try to find a “happy place” within your building where you can step out to take a quick break, e.g., an unused office, a quiet stairwell, or—why not?—the bathroom.
  4. Employ tactical scheduling. Working on days that others are off = quiet office. Conversely, taking a day off when everyone else is working = no “emergency” phone calls.
  5. Make the most of the time you do have off. Practice self-care and make a point of doing something you really enjoy (like playing Final Fantasy XV, amirite?).
  6. Take advantage of the good stuff: time off, holiday parties, and all of the delicious cookies people bring to work.

Getting into the holiday spirit without any glitter or ugly sweaters

  1. Recognize the good in others. Maybe John in HR always replies to your emails right away. Maybe Susan from Accounting makes wicked Excel spreadsheets. Everyone has strengths if you look hard enough, even the Dwight Schrutes out there. The holidays provide a good opportunity to notice and acknowledge others’ positive qualities. Doing so will spread lots of warm fuzzies.
  2. Take advantage of the holiday season as a way to connect with others. You have a great excuse to talk about something other than work: Start a conversation with your coworkers about their travel plans, commiserate about the perils of holiday shopping, swap recipes, etc. It’s like networking, only less soul-deadening.
  3. Start a volunteer or donation initiative at work. You’ll be giving back to your community, building relationships with your coworkers, gaining brownie points with your superiors, and getting your mind off TPS reports.
  4. Spread the cheer in a non-lame way. Suggest swapping out the usual office-variety coffee for a more festive flavor (go ahead — get your pumpkin spice on). Liven the mood by sharing a seasonal SFW YouTube clip. Put some candy canes out on your desk and see how many new friends you make. Maybe suggest a holiday happy hour. Obviously, use your best judgment when determining what’s appropriate for your specific workplace.
  5. Embrace the spirit of giving. Go a little above and beyond for your coworkers. Take on small tasks that makes others’ jobs easier, just because. Stay a little late to help a coworker finish a particularly demanding project. Wipe down the communal microwave. Spend some time with the terrified new guy and help him feel welcome. Small, thoughtful acts can go a long way.
  6. Educate yourself and practice sensitivity toward others’ beliefs. Keep an open-mind, and help contribute to a positive, inclusive, and respectful work environment.
  7. Find your sense of wonder again. What piques your curiosity that will help you grow professionally? It’s easy to fall into a mundane day-to-day routine, but diving into a new learning experience and challenging yourself can break up the tedium. The holidays are a good time to rediscover what inspires you.

Work is a challenging environment and the holidays are an intense time of year; this combination can easily be overwhelming. You’re not alone if you feel anxious or stressed out. It might be impossible to change your external circumstances—humming coworkers, seizure-inducing lights, cinnamon-scented everything—but it is possible to retain control over your internal mechanics by learning to cope with un-fun situations, managing difficult feelings in a healthy way, and deliberately trying to adopt a different mindset. Equipped with the strategies above, you can survive the holiday season at work and maybe even come out on top, both personally and professionally. You’ve got this!

Elisabeth Flannagan, MS Ed., LAC, could probably be described as an introvert with social skills. She’s the clinical supervisor of a school psychotherapy program and practices outpatient therapy on the side. She’s a little obsessed with Zelda and Reddit, and spent a year and a half playing Pathfinder as a neutral-evil elf with a dark past. Elisabeth is an Enforcer at PAX conventions and has proudly volunteered as a clinician with TakeThis since 2014.