The Final Holiday Stretch



The week leading up to Christmas and New Years is the final stretch of busy holiday planning that remains before we can begin celebrating.

In her post, How to Stay Productive During the Holidays, Patricia Rivera sums up a few key strategies to optimize productivity at work when we are surrounded by so many distractions.

“Harnessing one’s attention and managing distractions are the cornerstones of productivity, especially with the business of the holidays approaching,” says Alicia H. Clark, a licensed clinical psychologist in Washington, DC.

Many people believe that multi-tasking is effective. But Clark says this is a myth and that multi-tasking should be avoided. If you must multi-task, combine only the easiest and most routine tasks that do not demand a lot of thinking. Instead, create a clear list of goals and objectives you aim to accomplish every day.

The workplace isn’t the only setting in which we need productivity this time of year. Extra “to-dos” pile up everywhere as we try to do more in anticipation of celebrating the season. By now, plans have been made, lists are being tended to, and the holidays are well underway.  If you haven’t carefully managed your resources – and few of us do –  you are very likely feeling stretched, and fatigue may be settling in, making it harder to enjoy this special season. Managing stress is  exhausting, and exhaustion makes stress-management harder.

As you enter the final stretch, here are a few strategies to keep in mind:

Don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good.

Perfection is not your friend. Instead of trying to be or make things perfect, look for opportunities to be “good enough,” and embrace minimalism and simplification. Take a look at your to-do list and see what you can cut out, diminish, or delegate. Then do it.

Focus on your progress

If looking ahead at the days and tasks ahead makes you worry, take heart in instead looking back at the days already passed, which have been filled with productivity and fun. Enjoy the feeling of satisfaction from your accomplishments and the memories of celebrations enjoyed. Recognize the momentum that you feel, and let your stress fuel productive action, which will diminish both your to-do list and your stress.  As you move forward through your tasks, let the satisfaction of looking behind you motivate you for the final stretch. There is no greater stress-reliever than putting your anxiety into action. Keep up the good work – you are almost there!

If you can’t do anything else, get more sleep

Nothing is more helpful in reducing fatigue than sleep. It is easy to take this for granted and neglect our need for sleep when there is so much to do. But little is more detrimental to our functioning than sleep deprivation. Try for at least 7 hours per night (research indicates that 7.5 to 9 hours are ideal).  Getting more sleep might sound impossible with so much to do, but even an extra 30 minutes to an hour of sleep can make all the difference. Because fatigue impacts the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which we use to manage our time, attention, and priorities, it is easy to waste time when we are tired. Make a point to get to bed earlier at least one night in the coming week. Any potential time lost to an early bedtime will likely be returned to you the next day in rested efficiency.

Limit alcohol and drink more water

Alcohol is a given at many holiday social events, and can be a festive way to celebrate the season. But the effects of alcohol can catch up with even the most seasoned socializer. Not only are the extra calories a burden to your waistline, alcohol is dehydrating, causes less restful sleep and can leave you feeling more anxious. These effects can compound feelings of stress and fatigue. If you drink alcohol over the holidays, try to drink more water. Start the evening with a nonalcoholic drink, and follow by alternating alcoholic drinks with nonalcoholic ones (preferably water).

Aerobic exercise helps focus and stress management

If you can pack anything else into your day, try to make it aerobic exercise. Studies continue to demonstrate its positive effects on cognitive focus, energy levels, and moodHowever, if you have to choose between sleep and exercise, opt for sleep. Sleep outperforms exercise in its restorative effects, so if it has to be one or the other, opting for shuteye will deliver more results.

Notice and feel the connections that surround you

Finally, look for ways to give yourself and your loved ones the thing you are all probably seeking most – connection. Limit multitasking and distractions when you are with others, and strive instead to be present in the moment. In time spent together, notice that you can love and that you are loved. After all is said and done, these connections are what it is all about. Feel and express love to the people who are dear to you this season, and you will open yourself up to the spirit of the holidays.


Looking for more help in understanding anxiety? Learn more about my book Hack Your Anxiety and access free tools to help you manage the fear and anxiety going around the world today.

Alicia H. Clark, PsyD