Workplace Stress Christmas Season & your Brain

Christmas and New Year's stressors can have an impact in your brain and trigger the release of stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline affecting your performance

Workplace Stress, Christmas Season & your Brain

Most of us have heard stories of that famous individual who, along with a very committed team of enthusiastic personnel, works terrible hard during the entire year, developing new ideas and novel designs, defeating weather conditions and internal crisis, managing high expectations and emotional challenges with the help of choco-chips cookies and cups of hot chocolate. During the first two weeks of December, this movie super-star double shifts and pushes the entire team and himself to the maximum only to comply with all his commitments during the late evening on Christmas Eve. His performance appraisal can be easily measured by looking at the happy faces of his young clients on Christmas Day.

No, is not Santa Claus. This Holidays’ season crusader is you, your team, your husband, your wife, your best friend, your client, or me.  Indeed, Christmas and New Year’s season are associate with joy and celebration, but also with increased workload & deadline pressures, social events and obligations, year-end performance reviews, and other aspects like family dynamics and financial pressures.

These stressors can have an impact in your brain and trigger the release of stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline. For example, workload & deadlines may activate specific neural reactions in the brain like the stress “fight or flight” response, which involves various regions in your brain and the release of stress hormones. Two aspects may play a role on this:

Your perception of the workload and deadlines.
When faced with workplace and impending deadlines, like closing a Merger & Acquisition, you may interpret the situation as a danger to you or your team. What could happen to you if you don´t deliver the agreement? Could you lose your job or your investors? In this case, the hypothalamus may signal your body to prepare for a stress response by contributing to the release of noradrenaline, which could prompt irritability and anxiety, and cortisol, which in excess could affect your memory, concentration and decision making, and therefore your performance.

Your emotional processing. Imagine that you and your team are confronted by the challenge of reaching your sales budget before the end of the year. How you emotionally process the situation, and the fearful faces of your colleagues will have a different impact in your brain. If you experience fear and anxiety, the amygdala, a key brain region involved in emotional processing could be activated and may respond to stress signals by over-activating the fear and anxiety circuit and decreasing the capability of other brain areas involved in fear inhibition, contributing to the development of a chronicle stress vicious circle that can induce changes in your mood and sleep patterns.

It is important to consider that your individual responses to your workplace stress will vary based on your genetic predispositions, environmental factors, culture, age and even gender. Under the same circumstances some individuals may be more resilient, while others may be more susceptible to the negative effects of stress. However, it is imperative that you be aware of the toll that this season may impose on your stress management, so you may be able to apply any necessary stress management strategies that could help you.

So, how can you in your role of manager as a coach or as your own coach develop some strategies? You may ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What tasks and responsibilities should I prioritize during the holidays season?
  2. What boundaries should I set when accepting or delegating new tasks and when should I say no to avoid overcommitting?
  3. How can I schedule, take, and allow all necessary breaks during the workday to relax and recharge?
  4. How can I create a culture of support and open communication during the holiday season that encourages mutual support?

Remember that because each person response to stress may vary, her stress management strategies should also be tailored to her specific needs and preferences.