The holiday season is upon us, and what a season it is. Darkness by 4PM. Holiday parties with bosses and semi-acquaintances. The chance to navigate traffic for hours as you shop for gifts. And then there’s that wonderful winter weather, especially if you live in the Northeast or Midwest. Is anybody stressed yet?
Americans are deeply stressed out these days, and the holidays are the least of it. A survey of high school students found that three quarters “admit feeling stressed about the college admissions process.” A survey by the National Women’s Health Resource Center found that half of Americans were “concerned with the amount of stress in their lives.” As the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America Survey found, top causes of stress in 2010 include, money, work, the economy, and job stability.
Stress at work seems to be a particular problem. Almost two-thirds of public sector workers in the UK reported believing that the recession had increased stress levels. Public relations is perceived to be an especially stressful industry in which to work. The US News and World Report recently listed “Public Relations Specialist” as a “best career” of 2011, while noting that stress levels were often high. “It’s tough to spot the next curveball, if you’re, say, a company spokesperson. Even if you’re writing press releases, you can face tight deadlines. Your schedule can be up in the air quite a bit, which is stressful for many people.”
Scientists are only beginning to understand stress’ contribution to a whole host of health ills. And certainly stress affects our ability to perform well at work. That’s why the Council believes that PR firms, like employers in general, should do what they can to reduce stress levels at work. Are there any opportunities to moderate work loads or deadlines? Any potential to improve communications between co-workers and vertically along the organizational hierarchy? Any chance of building morale by offering more fun experiences? Are there telecommuting options?
On a personal level, there are many things individuals can do to relax more, beyond the usual techniques of taking vacations, going for a walk, or going to the spa. Here are some that we came up with:
- Smell more flowers: If you’re inclined to “stop and smell the roses,” do so: New research has linked floral scents with increased memory retention and productivity.
- Have More Fun: A recent TD Ameritrade survey found that 67% of respondents indicated that they planned to “have more fun and reduce stress” in 2011, two percentage points higher than the portion of those who planned to save more money.
- Listen to Music: Research has shown that music has eased stress in ventilated intensive care patients as well as in women while giving birth.
- Breathe: Deep, meditative breathing has been “scientifically proven to affect the heart, the brain, digestion, the immune system — and maybe even the expression of genes.” Studies have shown benefits from meditation in patients suffering from asthma and COPD.
- Turn off Facebook: Almost two-thirds of respondents in an Australian study reported that social media was raising stress levels. A study of students at one university found that those who gave up social media for a week reported being “less stressed and more attentive to course work.” As a report on the survey observed, “the results suggest that a healthier, more productive life style was practiced by a significant portion of the students.”
The public relations business has fared well as of late, and next year looks even better. Yet stress is still an issue that permeates our lives. This holiday season, let’s do ourselves a favor and try our best to chill out a little more. We can’t do much about the weather, the short days, or the need to attend holiday parties. But we can affect how we cope.