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A Unique Way to Manage Holiday Stress

November '17

Your to-do list is undoubtedly expanding with the upcoming holidays. Maybe you already feel flummoxed every morning about where to start with the items on that list. If you’re like a client of mine, you wonder whether you should make the bed, load the dishwasher, order holiday gifts, head for the elliptical in the basement, or relax with a cup of tea before work, after the kids have left for school. Happily there is a surprising and scientifically-based answer to that question. It all depends on your mood!

A large study of 28,000 people conducted by Maxime Taquet at Harvard Medical School yielded an unexpected result. Before this study, folks assumed we’re basically pleasure seeking creatures. So given that to-do list, you would automatically choose to relax with a cup of tea. Unfortunately, you might also shift about, feeling guilty because you think you are procrastinating.

The study, however, revealed more complexity about how we make decisions. When people feel bad they do indeed, head for mood-boosting activities, but when they feel good they actually tackle the more unpleasant, but necessary tasks like most of the possibilities listed above.

Reduce that Holiday Stress

The good news is that you can leverage these results to reduce your own holiday stress. If you’re feeling a bit down, it’s wise to head for activities that will elevate your mood. For example, the best choice in the list above would be to relax with that cup of tea before addressing the other chores.

Additionally, instead of berating yourself for procrastinating, you can practice a little self compassion and acknowledge you’re simply elevating your mood to take on those less pleasant duties. Otherwise that mood boosting activity you planned for yourself will prove to be a downer because of your inner critic.

Develop Your Own Mood Boosters

There are many ways to increase your happiness level. Only you know which ones will work best for you. If you’re an extrovert, then activities with others are likely to increase your energy level, and if you are more introverted, time by yourself will more likely recharge your batteries.

One of the most effective approaches is to develop is a mood boosting routine for commuting to and/or from work, because you will engage it every day. Perhaps you like to listen to podcasts, or some favorite music. When I worked at Wellesley College, I always stopped at a local coffee shop and pickd up a latte to enjoy at my desk while I worked through my inbox. Another effective commuting mood booster came from my faculty advisor in graduate school. When he left the university every day, he stopped for a twenty minute walk in a nearby park before heading home to his wife and kids. What a difference that must have made to his family, as he walked through the door without the pressing concerns of his work as a dean and professor at the top of his mind.

What about you? Which mood boosting activities do you employ? Please share a couple. They would be so useful this time of year. And who knows— helping others might even give your own spirits a lift.

May your holidays be joyful and full of ease!


  1. Linda K said on December 5, 2017:

    Thank you for offering your insightful introspect as a practical guide to reduce stress and to remain focused in the tasks ahead.

  2. Bonnie said on December 6, 2017:

    Thank you for letting me know this stress reduction approach works for you. Happy holidays! Bonnie

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