Ep 28: A leader’s guide to a calm and restorative holiday season

December 13, 2023

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I'm Sarah — leadership and communication mentor.  I'm here to help you grow your leadership, resilience, and influence. 

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As we hurtle towards the holiday season and 2023 comes to a close, it’s not uncommon for many of us to feel the weight of exhaustion and stress with so many events in the school calendar. That’s before you even think about the amount of presents to buy and wrap, cooking the perfect Christmas dinner, or the expectations of spending time with family. 

The do-to list seems never-ending!

Think honestly, do you take the time out you need and deserve over the Christmas period to truly unwind and recharge? How do you typically handle the expectations and pressures that the holiday season brings?

In this episode I share seven powerful strategies for a restorative Christmas season. From setting effective boundaries to creating your personal restoration toolkit, these tips will help you keep calm and rejuvenate during the holidays. If you’re feeling the pre-Christmas frenzy already then this episode is for you!

Give yourself a Christmas present as a leader and in life more generally – prioritise your self-care and find ways to nourish yourself during your well-earned Christmas break. 

Wishing you all a wonderful holiday season and all the best for 2024! 

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Prefer to read? Check out the article below.

A leader’s guide to a calm and restorative holiday season

As it’s December (I can’t quite believe it!) and we’re hurtling towards the end of term, Christmas, and 2024, I thought I would do a Christmassy-ish post. As a senior leader and teacher I remember this time of year well; you’re probably absolutely exhausted? If you’re in the northern hemisphere this term was the longest one, and for those in the southern hemisphere then it’s the end of a long academic year for you. 

Either way, with Christmas events taking place what seems like every day in December, it can feel exhausting! Then, when you get to the actual holiday itself, Christmas can be stressful with shopping, the never-ending to-do list, travel, and dinner with family that you may or may not get on with. With this in mind I’m going to share some strategies and suggestions to help you keep calm through Christmas, so that you get the break you need to help you truly rest and restore. Throughout the strategies I’m going to be referring you to previous blog posts and podcast episodes that you might want to read or listen to (either for the first time, or as a reminder).  Here we go: 

1. Listen to podcast Episode 8 “Disconnect and recharge, 5 strategies for leaders to get the most from their holidays” 

This is a whole episode devoted to helping you rest and recharge. When I wrote and recorded it I was thinking about the summer holidays, but it’s just as relevant for every holiday. I cover why taking a break is so important, what the benefits are to you for your overall health and wellbeing but also for your leadership as well. There are also 5 really important strategies that help you to go on holiday and come back feeling rested, restored, and revitalised.

2. Ditch the ‘shoulds’ 

We can often be pulled in so many different directions and there is a lot of pressure for Christmas to be perfect or to do what others want. We feel like we should look forward to something, or we should cook the most amazing dinner, or we should visit family. The shoulds are a fast track to feelings of obligation and guilt. So ditch the shoulds and swap it for could. Instead of “I should have the tree up and decorated” and “I should have all the presents wrapped by Monday”, say “well, I could have the tree up and presents wrapped by Monday” and just see how that feels. 

I often find that when I swap should for could the pressure lessens, and I can actually have clarity on what matters most to me and what I actually want to do. See the difference this tiny shift in language can have on how you feel. 

3. Set effective boundaries 

This is to help you manage through the holiday period. Boundaries are important for protecting the things that matter most to us, and that actually includes ourselves. When you look at setting great boundaries there are 3 core components to focus on:

  1. The actual setting of them. Decide what boundaries you want to set and what benefits you want to gain from setting them. 
  2. Communicating them clearly. 
  3. Managing them. 

I always like to anchor my boundaries to my values. For the holidays, if one of your values is family time, it might be really important for you to have a boundary around when you will and won’t work in order to protect this family time. The more you can anchor your boundaries within your values, the easier it is to not only set them, but then to manage them, and your ability to say no is going to be key to your ability to manage your boundaries effectively. We often say yes or maybe when, actually, what we really want to say is no. We need to build up that boundary setting muscle; tapping into values can help with this. Practising responses can also help so that if you’re asked to do something, rather than having to think things up on the spur of the moment, you’ve already practised saying “I can’t do that this time, but I’d love to see you after Christmas”. Just practise saying it out loud in front of the mirror. It sounds a little bit daft, but the more comfortable you can be with saying no, the easier it is in the moment when you might be feeling the pressure to say yes and to do something you don’t really want to do. 

From an authentic leadership and values perspective, you might want to listen or relisten toEpisode 4, “What is authentic leadership and why does it matter?” Or Episode 16, which is about “The power of values, how you can lead with authenticity and purpose”. There’s also a free resource with that episode that can help you to uncover, live, and lead from your values too.

From a setting boundary perspective, both in leadership and in life, you could take a look at Episode 6 and Episode 7. This is a two-part series on building braver and better boundaries and how to set boundaries as a leader. 

4. Manage your conversations 

I find family get-togethers can be the perfect recipe for difficult conversations. You might be dreading being sat next to great Aunt Hilda whose political views are the complete opposite of yours and you know that she’s going to share them, and probably quite loudly. Or perhaps it’s your brother who, even though you love him dearly, never seems to listen to anything that you say and always seems to interrupt you. Having these kinds of conversations is just as uncomfortable and challenging, sometimes more so, than having these conversations at work. So, again, like boundaries, practise some chosen phrases in advance. Even if it’s something simple like, “I’d rather not talk about that, thank you”. Practise, practise, practise!

If you want to know more about having uncomfortable conversations, you might want to listen to Episodes 18 and 19, or read the blog posts for these. Episode 18 is about how to have powerful, positive, and productive feedback and Episode 19 is about how to become better at receiving feedback. There are lots of great strategies and structures in both episodes. They are from a workplace perspective, but actually they can help you over the holidays as well as at work. 

5. Make a ta-da list 

This is for when you’re feeling overwhelmed or when you’re struggling to get things done. I love a good to-do list, but sometimes they can become really overwhelming due to their never-ending nature. So, instead, make a ta-da list! You list all the tasks that you’ve actually completed no matter how small. It could be taking the bins out, writing 3 Christmas cards, or wrapping 2 presents. Write it all down, give yourself credit for it all, and celebrate all your achievements. 

Quite often, we can get so overwhelmed with everything that we need to do we actually forget the things that we have done. This is about celebrating yourself and all the things that you’ve done. You are also rewiring your brain for celebration while we’re doing it. So make a ta-da list instead of a to-do list – that one little letter change can make all the difference!

6. Have mindful moments 

Mindfulness can help us to direct our attention and look after our mental health and well-being and our energy. Research shows that we have around 60,000 thoughts (minimum) during the course of a day, which is more than one thought every two seconds, meaning that our attention is going to wander all the time. You might have heard of the phenomenon of the monkey mind where our minds jump all over the place like monkeys do. Now, when our monkey minds are distracted our body can get flooded with that stress hormone cortisol, and over time that’s not great for health. 

If we’re thinking about Christmas in particular, it’s so easy to get caught up in the chaos and not actually be truly present in the moment. So mindfulness can help us appreciate all that we have and enjoy everything a little bit more. So, put down your phone, take some deep breaths, and truly tune in to what’s happening, and really savour the moment. You might want to try mindful eating: before you start your meal, take a pause, bring your attention inwards by closing your eyes, and breathe slowly in and out of your belly for 8 to 10 deep breaths. As you’re eating, slow down, and put your knife and fork down between each mouthful. Chew lots and notice the different flavours, textures, and temperatures of the food. 

When we take the time to do this and create mindful moments, whether it’s being mindful in the moment when we’re eating, or mindful in the moment during our conversations, turning into the present can help us to savour each and every experience over Christmas. Mindful moments can help strengthen feelings of enjoyment and also help those types of feelings to last longer as well. 

7. Create a restoration toolkit 

The Christmas period can seem busy and frantic regardless of the amount of time you have over the period. Finding time for yourself can be really hard. But remember, the holidays are a key time to rest and restore so that you are ready for the new year. Finding small but mighty ways that help you to prioritise self care and truly nourish your soul is so important. For this strategy, tune in to what gives you energy and has a positive impact on you. This is going to be different for everybody. It’s also useful to tune in to what depletes your energy as well. What leaves you feeling flat? What does it feel like when you’ve hit that wall? Really think about what might trigger both of those feelings: what are those energy givers for you and what are the energy depleters? The more you’re able to tune into this and grow this self awareness, the better. When we have that self awareness, we can make a list of all the things that we can put in our restoration toolkit.

Your restoration toolkit is how you can renew and restore yourself on different levels. It could be something simple like getting an early night or a walk in nature (a big one for me). I always forget how great I feel both during the time I’m out walking in nature and afterwards as well. Even though it sounds like something so small, writing it down in my toolkit helps me to remember how good it feels. Then, when I’m actually out there, I make sure that I’m mindful and truly in-the-moment when I’m walking. Other ideas for your restoration toolkit might be chatting to a friend, turning up the music and dancing or singing around the room, a calming cup of tea, or an afternoon nap. Just remember, it’s whatever works for you!

Using just one of these seven strategies can make a huge difference, but combining two or more can be even more powerful. Give them a try and see how you get on this festive season. 

Wishing all those who celebrate the most wonderful Christmas and a very Happy New Year.