How to cope with holiday stress at work

Two of life’s most potentially stressful arenas are work and the holidays. When you combine the two, it’s no wonder that many people feel anxious and overwhelmed.

“Although some people look forward to this time of year, others dread it,” says Kimberley Tyler-Smith, an executive at the career tech platform, Resume Worded. “People who work during the holidays can feel stressed out by all their obligations: family gatherings, buying gifts for friends and family members, taking time off from work, etc.”

Fortunately, despite the myriad distractions that threaten to derail your focus and productivity, you can take steps to cope with holiday stress at work. As a first step to holiday serenity in the workplace, it helps to understand what’s vying for you attention this time of year.

[READ: Red Flags That You Have Too Much Stress at Work.]

What Are the Biggest Distractions at Work During the Holidays?

Sarah Berger, a licensed clinical psychologist in Chevy Chase, Maryland, who specializes in stress and coping, notes that the biggest wintertime workplace distractions depend on the person.

“For some it might be shopping stress, anticipating family time, and stress associated with extended family, grief/loss around the holiday while missing someone, or financial concerns,” Berger says. “There may also be work pressures to wrap up certain projects before the holidays, as many employees will take time off.”

Berger adds that holiday preparation — such as making the holiday shipping deadlines and/or recovering from the holidays — adds many tasks to an employee’s schedule. Managing those duties while still being expected to work the same number of hours is a certain recipe for distraction and stress at work.

Linda Shaffer, chief people and operations officer at Checkr, an HR background check company, explains that one of the biggest challenges many workers face is managing their own expectations for productivity during this hectic time of year. “Many people expect themselves to work just as much as they do at other times of the year, and this can lead to stress when that isn’t realistic,” Shaffer says.

External distractions, such as family visiting one’s place of employment, are another major factor at work during the holiday season. “While these visits are certainly a nice break from daily life, they can also be a major hindrance to productivity if not managed properly,” she says. Among the other distractions that can arise during the holidays at work include late deliveries, unexpected events at work, or “just general holiday chaos,” Shaffer says.

[SEE: The Worst Times to Switch Jobs]

How to Stay Focused at Work During the Holidays

With such a swirl of potential holiday-related interruptions, staying focused at work becomes an even tougher challenge than usual. One strategy that can help, according to Berger, is to have dedicated time to focus on work vs. personal tasks.

“For example, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. you focus at work, 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. lunch and knock out a few personal tasks and then focusing back on work,” Berger says. “It may also be helpful to take a day off, if your job allows it, to knock out personal tasks.”

Another focus tip from Shaffer is to be proactive about managing external distractions. “If your workplace typically sees an influx of visitors around this time, you may want to consider setting up a temporary workspace away from the main office where you can focus on your work uninterrupted,” she advises.

Bonnie Whitfield, human resources director at Family Destinations Guide recommends that employees boost their focus by turning off all notifications on their phones except for phone calls and text messages. “If someone needs something urgently from you, they should call or text you instead of sending an email or stopping by your desk,” Whitfield says. “This helps you focus on what you are doing without having to worry about what else could be happening around you at any given moment.”

[SEE: The Best Times to Switch Jobs]

Keeping Productive at Work During the Holidays

Focus and productivity go hand in hand. With this in mind, Berger suggests that keeping specific to-do lists or scheduling tasks can help you be most efficient when blocks of time do arise.

“For example, if you know you have to call the florist between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., you can put in your calendar that you will call at noon and have the number ready,” Berger says. “Taking the time to plan removes a lot of the mental energy that can cause distractions.” She adds that getting enough sleep, drinking water, eating well, getting exercise and/or some other form of stress relief can also filter over to more productive time at work.

Shaffer’s productivity hack is to try to manage your internal expectations for productivity, such as by setting realistic goals and deadlines or by breaking up your work into smaller, more manageable tasks. Another important strategy she advocates for is simply being aware of holiday-time workplace distractions and how they might impact you, since this can help you anticipate potential challenges before they arise so that you’re better prepared to deal with them.

“Ultimately, the key to staying focused and productive during the holidays is to remain flexible and adaptable in your approach to work,” Shaffer says. “By being mindful of potential challenges and taking steps to prepare for them, you can significantly reduce holiday stress at work and get more done during this hectic time of year.”

More from U.S. News

Best Jobs for Work-Life Balance

20 Work-Life Balance Tips and Secrets From CEOs

Best Remote Working Jobs

How to Cope With Holiday Stress at Work originally appeared on

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up