Sunday 19 August 2018

Time to unwind

The lottery of when the Christmas break begins has been cruel this year. Tanya Sweeney advises how to relax when you only finish work on the 22nd

Downtime: You’ve made it to Christmas week, but you can turn down the odd invite to party
Downtime: You’ve made it to Christmas week, but you can turn down the odd invite to party
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Net gains: Get online and beat the queues

It's all down to the luck of the draw. Should Christmas Day fall on a Wednesday or even Thursday, many of us are lucky to get a leisurely run towards the big day. But this year, the calendar has been particularly cruel. Most companies and schools won't break off until tomorrow, leaving us with just a couple of days to get into the spirit of things.

Added to this, the run up to Christmas - which, let's face it, started back in mid-November - is enough to leave anyone depleted.

But there are ways to juggle the festive admin, the emotional labour and the usual work commitments, and still have a little something left in the tank for Christmas week. It's got everything to do with 'mindful unwinding', apparently…

How to take the foot off the pedal in work (without getting fired)

There are a few types of worker, according to organisational psychologist John Deely: "Some people enjoy a regular working cycle in December, [then there are] others for whom the end of the year is a challenge, and those for whom work is totally mad, like retail and hospitality workers.

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"Look back on last year, and see what made you run yourself into the ground. Learn from it and try to keep things a bit more functional this year. When December is just another working month, there's an overwhelming urge to clear the desk, and that's a false urgency that falls over people."

Jane Downes, workplace coach and author of The Career Book, agrees: "You need to work smartly. You need to get power naps in, and get out of the office in the afternoon and get some fresh air and light into your eyes. The expectation is huge to close everything off before Christmas, but see if things can wait until January.

"Companies need to see if they are putting too much expectation into finishing everything for year end. Maybe things can wait when people are fresher and brighter after a rest.

"The clients I'm working with now are really tired... They underperform, and expectation drops in their standards. It's quite dangerous, as January comes around quite quickly."

Enjoy yourself (but don't feel the need to go to every party)

With the invites coming at full pelt all month long, going to parties, attending nativity plays and meeting with old friends can sometimes feel like a chore. According to Orla Brosnan from the Etiquette School of Ireland, there is a right way to decline invites and save yourself from burning out too soon.

"Family and close friends should be number one on your list, and in your professional life, you should endeavour to at least make an appearance at the work party," she says.

"There is often some confusion in relation to explaining why you can't go to a party. You don't have to explain: just do it in a timely fashion. If you have RSVP'd yes and your plans unexpectedly change, let the host know as soon as possible."

Keep your expectations for the 25th realistic

Blame those pesky ads if you want, but most people have built up a sepia-soaked vision of perfection for Christmas day. According to success coach Judymay Murphy, it's more important that everyone is singing from the same carol-sheet. That way, the run up to the day itself will be less stressful. "If you have a picture in your head of the entire family doing the Christmas swim followed by mass, and your teenagers are seeing themselves sleeping 'til noon and playing video games, you have a recipe for stress," she says. "Have the conversation now about how each person wants the season to look, remembering that this isn't a competition to have the best Christmas ever, just a nice and different day.

"And don't presume that because you always did something, because it was a family tradition, that it needs to happen every year. A year off from a large turkey or from visiting your cousin's house a hundred miles away isn't going to destroy Christmas. Think about what will best support you this year."

Stay healthy

'Tis the season to eat, drink and be merry, but that doesn't mean that your regular regime goes out the window. In fact, a sensible daytime plan can offset any nocturnal excesses.

"Add more healthy eating habits in, as if you are building reserves for the gluttony," advises Lisa Wilkinson, owner of the Elbow Room in Dublin.

"Adding good habits is easier than cutting things out as it has a knock-on effect. Consider weekdays to be sugar- and alcohol-free in the lead up to festivities, leaving you free for more indulgent weekends. And book a January cleanse to negate the guilt afterwards so you'll know in advance that you will get time to reboot."

Surround yourself with the right people

If, as they say, your personality is most like those of the four people you most hang out with, make sure they are solid.

"Connect with good friends," says Wilkinson. "Those kind of friends that don't need anything from you. The ones who can listen generously and won't drain your energy with negativity or be overly needy. You are probably going to be with relatives who are a pain over Christmas, so cosy up with your friend family first."

Keep off social media

Net gains: Get online and beat the queues
Net gains: Get online and beat the queues

Start phasing out the smartphone: in terms of reducing your tension in record time, remember that work stress is exacerbated by modern technology. As soon as you get home, switch off your mobile. Go a step further and switch off all your electronic devices (after you've used the kettle to make a brew, obviously) and just be alone in a quiet space for five minutes.

"Don't compare your actual Christmas to everyone else's Facebook Christmas," advises Murphy. "You don't see the meltdown that happened right after the perfect family picture was taken, you can't tell that the person who posted about peace and goodwill is grieving their mother and on the brink of divorce. Just have a good enough day for you."

Shop mindfully

Reckon that you'll be able to get the entire lot done during your lunch hour? Everyone's having the same idea.

Here is where the internet is your friend. Order the big shop via an online supermarket like Tesco, and use the quick delivery function on websites for presents.

For anything that you'd like to shop for in real life, statistics say that Christmas Eve afternoon is the quietest time of the year for retailers. And don't be afraid to use the experts. Says Katie McGrath, head of personal and private shopping in Brown Thomas: "People think that personal shopping is a service that women use, but we do it for all age groups and budgets - men, children, anyone. It's easier at home to flick through the site on a tablet, see a few things you like, and then we locate the items at the store."

Manage your time

Time-management expert Dermot Rice is a big fan of scheduling. "You need to block off an hour to put down a list of everything you have to do before the big day," he suggests. "There's no point in simply saying, 'I must get some presents'. Look at the time available to you, and allocate time to do it.

"What I would recommend is that at the end of every day, prioritise what you have to do and what would be nice to do. I've seen people schedule 15 hours of work into a three-hour slot."

Irish Independent

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