For the better part of my life -- well into my adult years -- I celebrated the holiday season much like Ralphie in A Christmas Story. I welcomed the season by hanging holiday lights, starting Christmas music as early as Thanksgiving and re-watching every classic Christmas movie all month. It was the time of year that I allowed myself the indulgence of acting much younger than my years reflected.
Then something happened that changed all of this for me. I became an entrepreneur.
When I co-founder a toy and game manufacturer in 2007, I became responsible for a business that was incredibly dependent on the holiday season for success, with revenue during this time making up as much as 30 percent of our yearly total.
Shortly after I started the company, however, the Great Recession sent a shockwave through the global economy. Because we were a young company with no access to capital, we were forced to do whatever was necessary to generate cash during this all-important fourth quarter, including countless trade shows and mall kiosks for the first few years.
With consumer confidence down and people spending far less in general, those first few holiday shopping seasons were tough. Because I was in the shopping fray as the retailer, my happy memories of bustling shopping centers, happy gift seekers, joyous Christmas music and excited kids anxious to see Santa were replaced with dreaded memories of AWOL employees, grumpy customers and cold medicine, which I subsisted on almost every day.
I even skipped hanging holiday decorations for a couple of years, and to this day, Bing Crosby’s White Christmas, which blared through every mall I worked, causes a negative emotional reaction.
Since that time, I have learned to deal with the stress and anxiety much better. And while dealing with it took a great deal of personal and mental toughness, by and large it was the support and advice from friends and family that helped get me through those rough patches.
So to avoid losing your holiday cheer this year, consider these easy tips for handling your seasonal business anxiety.
When people get stressed, they tend to take short breaths or hold their breath all together. The problem is that improper breathing causes your blood pressure to rise and your muscles to tense, all of which just complicates your stress.
Next time you feel yourself getting stressed -- either in your business or waiting in line to see Santa -- take a moment to allow yourself the opportunity to focus on your breathing. Learn breathing exercises and consider taking up meditation, which even Santa is rumored to do, to relax.
2. Have a lifeline.
I remember little from my early hectic holiday seasons, because I often shut down emotionally and crawled into a mental -- and sometimes physical -- dark corner to sulk. Looking back, I did this as to not bring those around me down, especially during the holiday season. This turned out to be a profound mistake, because it ultimately put stress on many of the personal relationships I had.
If business is getting you down this holiday, phone a friend -- that is the reasons they are called friends. Sometimes, just the warm tone a friend’s voice, an outside perspective, and a little advice may be enough to bring you back to reality.
3. Find a positive role model.
My dad has always been a positive role model for me in life and in business, even now that he is well into his 80s. As a guy who owned his own small business, I never saw him stress about work or business, which reflected on how he treated his family and friends. His business was much smaller with four mouths to feed, and his achievements put my own petty stress into perspective.
In your seasonal pursuits, as well as for the entire year, find that positive role model in your life, and use him or her to help keep you centered during your times of stress and doubt.
4. Go to your happy place.
Because the holiday is always bustling, it is important to have a place where you can be alone and reflect. Do not let this place be a dark, secluded space, as it will only add to the anxiety. For me, it was the beach, the grandeur and expanse of which always put little business problems in perspective.
5. Smile and laugh.
Although this may seem cliché, the truth of the matter is that the simple act of smiling and laughing can have tremendous health benefits. How do you think Santa has stayed fit and adept for so many years?
So whether you celebrate the holiday with overzealous anticipation and excitement or just quietly in your own private way, do not let the business stress of entrepreneurship cause you to hate the whole Christmas season. Just breathe, smile, indulge a couple of hours for a favorite holiday movie, and appreciate the season for what it is -- a time for joy and cheer.