4 Tips for How Entrepreneurs Can Unplug and Recharge During the Holidays
No matter what their field of endeavor, successful people tend to share a common trait: They’re highly determined to excel at work, and -- at times -- this drive to succeed can negatively impact work/life balance.
According to a study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), 40 percent of workers on one survey described their jobs as very or extremely stressful, and 25 percent viewed their jobs as the No. 1 stressor in their lives.
This is a time when, according to Project Time Off, more than half of Americans fail to take their allotted days of vacation, and 705 million vacation days go unused each year. And that's not right.
Instead, this holiday season we're now in -- when, for most, time off is mandatory -- should provide a guilt-free time to unwind and recharge.
Unfortunately, this is often not the case. A Metlife survey found that for 42 percent of workers surveyed, December is the most stressful time of year. Supposedly enjoyable activities like the annual office Christmas party cause agitation for 37 percent of workers anxious to keep their work and social lives separate.
Why Are the holidays so stressful?
Ellen Bratten, a psychologist, in an nterview with Harvard Medical School, summed up the core of the problem at this year of year: "The holidays," she said, "are filled with both joy and stress.”
There may be a legitimate scientific reason for this dichotomy, Bratten surmised. The holidays, after all, can overtax the executive functioning of the brain, she said, referring to the part responsible for “managing time, being attentive, switching focus, planning, and organizing, and remembering details.”
For 62 percent of those responding to an American Psychological Association survey,, lack of money was the most stressful thing about the holidays, while 50 percent said that the pressure they felt to make their families happy was a significant source of anxiety.
Discord with the in-laws and your drunk uncle may be an unavoidable occurrence during the festive season -- as is overspending on presents. But taking certain steps to minimize the additional stress caused by work-related matters can make the holidays more rejuvenating for you, and set you up for success in the new year.
Here are four ways to unplug and recharge for the holidays.
1. Conscious unplugging
Whether we like to admit it or not, most entrepreneurs and workers today are slaves to their electronic devices, whether they’re on vacation or not. A recent study by Asurion found that, "Americans check their phones an average of 80 times a day while on vacation, with some checking their phone more than 300 times each day.”
Whether the pressure to always be connected is internal or external, the holidays are the one time of year when you should make a conscious attempt to unplug. For one thing, chances are that many of your coworkers and clients are attempting to do the same thing.
So, here's a strategy: Create a professional autoresponder for both email and all your various messaging apps that conveys a reasonable expectation for when you will be able to reply. Then try to stick to it. Inevitably, you may have to deal with some matters over the holidays, but many minor issues can wait.
Unplugging may also make you more productive in the long run. Richard Branson, speaking to Inc. said, “I make sure that I disconnect by leaving my smartphone at home or in the hotel room for as long as possible -- days if I can -- and bringing a notepad and pen with me instead. Freed from the daily stresses of my working life, I find that I am more likely to have new insights into old problems and other flashes of inspiration."
For many, the holidays are the one opportunity to see and spend time with friends and relatives they don’t see during the year. Don’t squander this valuable time staring at your screens.
2. Plan ahead.
The holiday season has a way of sneaking up on of all of us, and the short gap between Thanksgiving and Christmas is a time fraught with stress for many. Rather than feeling powerless about the additional pressure at this time of year, be proactive and make an extra effort to plan and balance both your personal and work obligations.
Spencer Blackman, M.D., speaking to Entrepreneur, advised, “If you’re entertaining friends and family or organizing a work party, it takes upstream work to ensure a smooth event. Engage your support system and make a plan before things get crazy.”
3. Take time out to breathe .
Additionally, take time out -- even if it’s just 10 minutes -- to relax and breathe. Steve Jobs famously praised the importance of taking productive breaks, telling biographer Walter Jacobson, "If you just sit and observe, you will see how restless your mind is. If you try to calm it, it only makes it worse, but over time it does calm, and when it does, there's room to hear more subtle things -- that's when your intuition starts to blossom, and you start to see things more clearly and [to] be in the present more.”
Jobs’s advice will hold you in good stead throughout the year, but everyone should remember to slow down and breathe during this stressful holiday period.
4. Exercise and avoid overindulging (too much).
Many people see the holidays as a time when the regular rules of eating healthily and exercising are temporarily suspended. Unfortunately, your metabolism is unlikely to oblige by speeding up while you’re on vacation. So, consider avoiding that fourth slice of pumpkin pie or fifth glass of eggnog.
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, analyzed body weight increases over the holidays in three different countries: the United States, Germany, and Japan. In all three, significant weight gain was revealed during the holiday season. In the United States, that weight gain began around Thanksgiving and peaked ten days after Christmas. Even more concerning, the same study found that it took subjects an average of five months to lose the extra weight packed on during the holidays.
Easing up slightly on dietary restrictions and fitness regimens during the holidays is unlikely to do any lasting harm. However, continuing to follow healthy habits over the festive season will help ensure you don’t take massive steps backward that will require that much more effort to recover -- well into the new year.
While some additional stress during the holiday season is inevitable, remember to unplug, exercise, plan ahead and take some time out to breathe. This will not only make the holidays more enjoyable, but it will also help chart a successful course for the New Year.