The end of the year is nigh and with it comes swarms of shoppers, countless social events, crowded supermarkets, stretched budgets and family squabbles, among myriad other potential disasters. All that can lead to one thing: stress.
According to the Australian Psychological Society’s Stress and Wellbeing in Australia Survey 2013 Australians are reporting higher stress levels and stress, as we know, can lead to illness, burnout, lost productivity and more.
According to the APS, there are a number of steps people can take to keep reduce their stress levels.
Identify the warning signs
Everyone feels stress differently. For some, stress might take the form of dull headaches; others may get increasingly irritable. According to Dr Caryl Barnes, a practising psychiatrist and consultant to mental health organisation The Black Dog Institute, cognitive functional issues can also occur; some people, for instance, may find it more difficult to make decisions.
The important thing is to be aware of – and acknowledge – the warning signs. Then you can try to extricate yourself from the stressful situation.
“Prolonged periods of stress are a risk factor for developing other mental health issues,” Barnes says. “So you need to do something about it.”
Identify situations that trigger stress and reduce their frequency
Do crowded supermarkets make you stressed? If so, get up before the early bird to do your Christmas grocery shopping. Same goes for all that present buying. These days many shopping centres have extended late-night hours over the holiday break. Make the most of it!
As far as workplace triggers go, Barnes suggests that managers can do a lot to mitigate stress for people who work for them.
“Workplace stress comes about when there is an imbalance between demand and recognition. The end of the year is a good opportunity for leaders to recognise people’s contributions through the year.”
In addition, Barnes says, there’s often a – sometimes unnecessary – push at the end of the year to “clear the deck”.
“Leaders can step back from that and work out with their teams what actually has to be done, what is a priority and what’s a nice-to-have,” she says. Reducing the demand on people, she says, goes a long way to mitigating stress.
Monitor negative “self-talk”
How many times do you say to yourself, “This is just too hard”? While acknowledging the situation isn’t a bad thing, putting a negative spin on it is. Change your language to “I can do this” and you may find it all the easier to bear.
According to Barnes: “We can get very caught up with the story that we tell ourselves, and sometimes that can be negative and not really reflect the situation. Not getting caught up in the story that your head’s telling you can be really helpful.”
Look after your health
With the holiday season comes overeating, excessive drinking and often less exercise, none of which help your personal wellbeing. While a blowout on Christmas Day can be acceptable, try to rein it in during the rest of the season. Your future self will thank you and you’ll likely feel less stressed for it.
Sleep is another wellbeing must-have. “One of the reasons exercise is so good for managing stress is that it helps with sleep and fatigue,” Barnes says. According to the Australian Sleep Health Foundation, the average adult needs between seven and nine hours of sleep a night.
Invest time with people you care about, who care about you
It might sound obvious, but surrounding yourself with negative people can heighten your stress levels.
And, while talking about it can help, it’s best if you talk to people who care about you, and who you want to be around. These people, Barnes says, can give you a sense of wellbeing that’s going to help you ride those stressful times better. After all, ’tis the season to be with the ones you love. Finally, Barnes says, “If you’re feeling unwell and have symptoms of depression or anxiety, seek help.
“People tend to hang on this time of year,” she says. “They don’t want to upset their family, they don’t want people to worry about them. If you’re starting to feel low, flat, not looking forward to things and feeling quite hopeless in yourself, don’t put it off until the new year. You want to get help and treatment early.”
If you’re experiencing mental health issues, contact: Lifeline on 131 114; beyondblue on 1300 224 636 or SANE Australia on 1800 18 SANE (7263).