Dealing with stress a key during the holidays
Steven Courtright (UI photo)

IOWA CITY — The song says this is “most wonderful time of the year,” but for many, the holidays only mean longer hours of work, heaps of bills and higher blood pressure.

Steve Courtright, a professor of management and entrepreneurship at the University of Iowa, studies stress at work. He says research finds the typical person’s stress levels bound 30 to 40% during this final month of the year.

“They also report more positive emotions during this time of year, feelings such as love and connection,” Courtright says. “So these are happening hand-in-hand with one another, which actually tells us a little bit about stress. Stress can occur simultaneous with also positive emotions that we feel, so it’s not all doom and gloom during the holidays.”

It takes a little work, but we can recognize if we’re getting grouchy at our desk and we may need a short walk outside to focus. Courtright says some people are feeling the double-whammy of an extra workload at our jobs and we come home to added responsibilities there, too.

“We have budgets to finish up and we have all these quarterly reports to send and things like that, but also it can be that I’m also trying to buy presents for my family, we’re preparing for family gatherings, we’re trying to decorate the house,” Courtright says. “Any time we face those demands, we tend to appraise those demands as either threats or opportunities, and really, how we appraise those demands makes all the difference in terms of how cranky we’ll be as a result.”

We need to adjust our thinking, he says, to zero in on the things that make us happy during the holidays, and reframe the things that might otherwise stress us out. “So for example, I’m stressed because we have a family gathering. Well, focus on the joy of the family gathering as much as possible rather than all the different preparation with it,” Courtright says. “Or, I don’t have enough money for presents this year. Maybe reframe that as we can have a more simplified Christmas this year and for some, that might mean we’re gonna do more fun family activities, and for others that might mean we’re focusing on religious aspects.”

If you’re feeling stressed, Courtright says, know that you’re far from alone. You can embrace the stress, he says, if you harness those positive emotions and think about things that bring you joy.