As South African workers, students and learners start feeling the happy vibes of holidays that are just around the corner, many will try to just muddle through the next few days or weeks, forgetting that holidays can actually be a very stressful time.

To make the most of this festive season, and relax and unwind sufficiently to get back in the saddle with renewed energy in January 2016, there are a few small things that can be done so as not to let anxieties about returning to work or school spoil a chunk of the holiday, an expert says.

“While thoughts of returning to duty are effectively banished from one’s mind during the initial stages of leave or recess, as the new year comes closer many people’s minds will be jolted back to the looming reality which can detract from what should be a happy, carefree time,” says Dr Felicity Coughlan, Director of The Independent Institute of Education, SA’s largest and most accredited private higher education institution.

“Thoughts of returning to the office can cause feelings of anxiety, dread and even depression, but by taking a few small empowering actions now and during the holidays, going back can be considerably less stressful,” she says.

“As the saying goes: If you haven’t started planning for 2016, you are already behind. So now is the time to tie up all the loose ends and get a plan in motion that will see you enter the new year with no remnants from 2015 sapping your energy, and with a vision for growth that will excite and inspire you throughout your break,” she says.

In recent years, a UK survey among 2500 people conducted by the Institute of Leadership and Management, showed that for many people, going on holiday actually increased their stress.

Coughlan says that many South Africans would be in the same boat, but that positively making the transition between the old year and new relied on two steps: closing the door on what belongs in 2015, and determining what sits behind the new door.

She says to make the most of one’s holidays, one should:

Make sure that all the jobs, tasks and projects scheduled for this year are done and dusted  before you leave for the holidays, she says.

“Make a to-do list for the remaining worktime in this year and take satisfaction in ticking off one after the next task. Clear your inbox and remember to set up an out-of-office reminder on your last day.”

Ensure that people know where to reach you in case of an emergency, but resolve to stay away from “just quickly checking in” at work, or spending most of your days on social media.

“Give your brain a real chance to shut off and rest,” says Coughlan. “You will find that when you give your mind this kind of space, all kinds of new ideas and visions for the future will find their way into the space which used to be filled with status updates and online rage.”

“Knowing that once your break is over you will be returning to another year of more of the same – and even more of the same – can be a real downer,” says Coughlan.

“For human beings to grow and become more self-actualised, each year must allow new opportunity for growth. During your time off, take stock of your direction. Are you doing what you love? Is there something else you would like to explore? Perhaps you can start exploring that by joining a short course or signing up for a programme? Taking a step in the direction you want to be going, however small, will put a new spring in your step.”

Whether it be starting to train for your first 5K run, starting a blog, or learning a new language, doing something fun and constructive will immediately get you energised and inspired, says Coughlan.

“The trick is to not while away your precious days with eating, partying and sleeping day after day. While there is certainly space for that, a confidence-building activity and a vision for the future will do much more to restore your mind and body, and help you start 2016 in the way you would like it to end – on a high note,” she says.

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