For many, the end of the year represents excitement, holidays and time with family and friends. But, if we are honest, for most of us this time of the year can be extremely stressful…

“Many of us just take on more than we are able to get done over the holidays and over commit ourselves,” says Helene Vermaak, Director at The Human Edge. “This increase in stress can place a significant toll on health at a time where we should be recharging.”

Instead of taking some much needed ‘me’ time, most of us want to make the season special for family and friends, resulting in overextending ourselves

Vermaak says that The Human Edge’s US partner, VitalSmarts, ran a survey and found that the top five holiday stressors are:

  • Keeping up – trying to stay on top of all the activities, pressures and expectations that come with the holidays
  • Finances – blowing the budget so that the holidays are extra special
  • Shopping – trying to find the ‘perfect gift’ for those special people in our lives
  • Family events – attending holiday dinners, parties and gatherings with relatives
  • Physical health – trying to stay healthy and active at a time when food and festivities are in overabundance

Researchers have found that the holidays, while festive, provide the perfect combination for schedule and relationship overload. Spending a lot more time with family and friends over the holidays and, the additional stress in trying to make sure that everything is perfect, increases the pressure on everyone.

Vermaak provides a few conversation skills that help to manage the stress and ensure that everyone not only has a good time but that you also get some much-needed downtime:

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Manage your commitments even if this means having to say no

When a crucial conversation takes place under conditions of stress, our intentions can become short-term and selfish. We tend to be more concerned if others will like us, whether we’ll look good, be right, or rather try to avoid conflict. The problem with short-term motives is that they preserve the present by mortgaging the future.

Ask yourself – what do I really want? – for me, the other person and the relationship?

Unhelpful emotions are another barrier to a productive conversation

We often come in angry, scared, hurt, or defensive. Surprisingly, our emotions have less to do with what the other person is doing, and more to do with the story we tell ourselves about what they are doing.

Importantly, bring an attitude of confidence and curiosity

Before the conversation, think through your position, so that you are confident that it has merit. Have enough humility to be interested in any facts or logic that might affect the conversation.

Define your boundaries and step back from the behaviours and situations that may be causing you stress without fully stepping back from the person you are having the conversation with.

Avoid creating an approach of all-or-nothing by taking the time to establish and reinforce safety with the person you may be ‘letting down’. Propose things that you would rather do so that you are able to foster the relationship and that the person understands your situation.

“This festive season, when you are juggling to do lists, additional commitments and holiday planning, it is vital to manage your commitments and actions even if this means having to say no, if you are to remain calm and have some relaxation,” concludes Vermaak.

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