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Simple ways that high-performing individuals can survive the festive season and avoid overwhelming feelings of stress and anxiety.

Gearing up for the office shutdown over Christmas can be a driving force for employees to tie up loose ends and to finish the year on a high, but for those in more senior roles such as managers, CEOs and business owners, holiday anticipation can cause overwhelming feelings of stress and anxiety.

As we head into the festive season and gear up for a fresh calendar year, now is the best time to start implementing small actions that will transform into beneficial habits over the course of the New Year.

Why not ditch the chocolate advent calendar and replace it with these 12 simple, daily strategies, which high-performing individuals and CEOs can use to survive the festive season and become proactive about avoiding burnout in 2024.

If you’ve ever read Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep, you already know just how crucial quality sleep is for good physical and mental health. Experts say that just a single night of poor sleep, or sleeping less than seven hours a night, can cause cognitive impairment and overtime lead to poor mental health.

When we don’t get enough sleep, our cortisol (the stress hormone) levels increase – the exact opposite of what we need to perform optimally at this time of year.

Studies show that even mild dehydration can have negative effects on both your mood and cognitive functions. When your feelings are already heightened ahead of the Christmas break, something as simple as increasing your water is a no-brainer when it comes to optimizing performance.

‘Wine o’clock’ has become our society’s way of managing stress, yet alcohol is a known depressant and a causal factor in a range of cancers. As we embrace the ‘silly season’, it’s not uncommon to fall into a cycle of end-of-year catch ups, client lunches, Christmas parties and too many tipples.

With so many non-alcoholic options these days, including soft drinks and mocktails in a can, it’s possible to keep up with all the festivities without feeling perpetually hungover.

There’s no better feeling than getting a rush of post-workout endorphins – but when you barely have time to eat your lunch and are rushing between back-to-back meetings, the thought of getting exercise in can feel like a losing the battle before you’ve even started.

But there’s good evidence to show that physical activity can protect against the emergence of anxiety, and higher levels can reduce risks of agoraphobia and post-traumatic stress disorder. This doesn’t mean you have to run a mile a day, but try parking slightly further from the office each morning, or utilize a stand-up desk if you have one, and reap the benefits.

With working from home now the norm, we’re having fewer face-to-face interactions than ever before. Meetings can be done via video conference, meals can be delivered at the click of a button, and while this may be convenient, it’s not necessarily good for our mental health.

In fact, researchers have found mounting evidence linking loneliness to physical illness and to functional and cognitive decline. As a predictor of early death, loneliness may even be more of a risk than obesity.

No matter how busy your work gets, don’t forget to make time to spend with your loved ones this festive season and embrace quality time.

Being in nature is good for both our body and mind, with growing evidence to indicate the benefits of being in nature and even ‘forest bathing’. At this time of year, leaders and CEOs can be overwhelmed with stress which we know can increase blood pressure and heighten your risks of heart disease and stroke.

The good news is that being out in nature can have both physiological and psychological benefits, including anxiety reduction and the lowering of blood pressure.

During the Christmas festivities, we can get so caught up in putting on an impressive lunch or purchasing the biggest presents, which only increases stress faced by high-performing individuals.

Giving back to others might seem low down on the priority list at this time of year, but in addition to benefitting those doing it tough, the act of altruism can have a positive impact on a person’s personal emotions and improve life satisfaction.

I love coffee and have always said it didn’t affect me. I was sure I could have a coffee before bed and felt it didn’t keep me awake. However, studies have shown that caffeine does, in fact, negatively impact sleep quality, your production of the sleep-promoting chemical adenosine, as well as reduce your time in deep sleep, which is essential for optimizing your performance during the day.

The internet is designed perfectly for the dopamine-seeking brain because there’s essentially an infinite amount of data you can ‘discover’ there. Each new ‘like’ you get from one of your posts, each new photo you scroll past on Instagram, your brain gets a little hit because it discovered something – followed again by more dopamine because it wants to see what’s next.

While this mini dopamine hit might make you feel slightly better in the moment, it can distract you from winding down effectively at the end of the day and may hamper quality sleep.

The last thing you might feel like doing is laughing, but it has been proven to aid in muscle relaxation (goodbye clenched jaw) and calm your body’s stress response. With so many Christmas-themed movies airing this time of year, why not pop one on in the background while you work or carve out time with your family to laugh together – the more the merrier!

Those in senior leadership roles know the feeling when it seems like you don’t even have time to breathe, but taking a minute to be conscious about your breathing can immediately improve your wellbeing. Deep breathing – also known as diaphragmatic breathing – is a proven technique to promote your body’s relaxation response, which helps get us out of ‘fight or flight’ mode.

When you’re driven by achievements at work, it can leave you feeling like you always need to strive for more, do more and be more. But taking a moment to practice gratitude and be thankful for everything you do have and have already achieved can both reduce stress and positively impact your mental health.

We live in a world that worships work, and we have bought into the idea that more is better. Long days, full diaries and an absence of holidays are, in many organizations and communities,  seen as virtues rather than vices. But what if the thing we have been wearing as a medal of honor is actually a weight around our neck?

At the busiest time of the year, I encourage you to practice one of the above steps each day ahead of Christmas, and reap the benefits of being calmer and more focused so you can squash your stress and reach your full potential.

Ruth Limkin

Contributor Collective Member

Ruth Limkin founded The Banyans Healthcare and is now Chief Development Officer, helping grow the Sana Health Group’s network of treatment options. This includes strategies to help normalize conversations around behavioral health needs; building awareness of both the need and the services available through marketing, public relations, media engagement, partnerships and education; working alongside Sana services to promote business excellence; and working with government, universities and other stakeholders to promote excellence in the private sector. Find out more at https://ruthlimkin.com/

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