Way Less Sad

I was listening to the radio, and a song by AJR with that title came on. The chorus recites, “I ain’t happy yet, But I’m way less sad.” Sometimes, I find myself in that mental state. Not really happy, but not really sad either. It’s almost like I’m waiting for something to change so I can decide how to respond.

We are officially “in the holidays.” Thanksgiving has come and gone, and the Christmas season is in full swing. Unfortunately for many people, this will not be a season of joy. Studies show that over a third of people feel their stress levels rise during the holidays. Additionally, over two thirds of people with some mental health issue report that their symptoms increase during the holidays.

Why do the holidays stress us out? There are many potential reasons, but some of the more popular ones are increased general stress from social and time pressure, financial stress, remembering loss, loneliness, and unmet expectations. It’s no wonder that AJR (that’s Adam, Jack, and Ryan Met, by the way) sings, “I don’t wanna hurt no more, So I set my bar real low.”

It has always amazed me that we pack all the end-of-year work—strategic planning, budgets, performance reviews, and anything else we can—into the time of year when we are all trying our best to relax, spend more time with family and friends, and experience the season. It’s like we are trying to fail. I’m not sure we can correct the calendar issues (I’m willing to try), but I know we can intentionally make this season better.

We can start by lowering our expectations. If we expect our people to keep up the same pace during the holidays, they are going to be stressed out, and we are going to be disappointed. Acknowledging and accommodating the inevitable and necessary reduction in attention and time gives everyone a little breathing room.

We can practice saying “no” a little more. I intentionally start saying no to any new projects or engagements around Thanksgiving and continue to be very stingy with my time and attention until after New Year’s. Remember, as a leader, the pace you run sets the pace for everyone else. If you refuse to slow down and smell the cider, your people will not either.

Sometimes, it is helpful to limit sources of stress and increase sources of fun. This might look like cutting back on recurring meetings and reducing the requirements for how much time people are in-office vs. working remotely, while creating opportunities for socialization and unstructured time. This is a great time for team building WITHOUT an agenda.

Finally, as leaders, we must stay diligent about our own self-care and encourage others to do the same. Knowing that a significant number of your team WILL be struggling in some way this season should be the catalyst for you to increase your availability and remind team members of the services available to them if they need some help.

The holidays should be a season of joy. As leaders, we cannot mitigate all the reasons for people to be stressed and depressed, but we shouldn’t be adding to them. By adjusting our expectations, saying no a little more, and being intentional about self-care, we can give our team and ourselves a few reasons to be less sad. Maybe, along the way, we can even be happy, and we can call it the Bison Way.