Since March, we’ve been isolating at home or wearing masks and social distancing when we go out. When we do communicate, it’s often muffled or aided by technology.

From my perspective, these measures have caused our communications to deteriorate. People grunt and point while evading eye contact. Over time, these small negative experiences add up, increasing our stress during an already stressful 2020.

When we experience high levels of stress, our brains function differently. Normally, we process information in the front of the brain. However, when we are stressed, we process information in the lower back of the brain, which is the more primal and reactive part. This decreases our ability to cope and increases our risk of escalated behavior.

What can we do to communicate more effectively this holiday season?

  1. Smile. When engaging with others, attempt to make eye contact and smile. Genuine smiles affect the entire face. So, even if you’re wearing a mask, your smile carries through to your eyes. While we’re no longer shaking hands, a warm greeting can help people feel acknowledged.
  2. Make a phone call. If you’re getting tired of socializing through Zoom and FaceTime, it’s fine to text or email. But for any messages that have an emotional context, it’s helpful to pick up the phone so your listener can detect the feelings behind your words.
  3. Speak up. If you’re wearing a mask, speak loudly so you’re not asked to repeat yourself. I bet I’ve asked people to speak up more times during the last nine months than I have during my entire life!
  4. Be kind. When you communicate, show respect and appreciation.
  5. Breathe. If you find yourself getting frustrated or stressed, remember to take a breath before you respond.

According to studies, it takes about three to five positive interactions to counteract a negative one. As we enter this holiday season, keep these simple tips in mind. They can go a long way in reducing stress—and perhaps even provide comfort and joy.

For many of us, the 2020 holiday season will be especially difficult. If you or someone you care about appears to be struggling, it’s important to reach out for professional help. If you have an employee assistance program, use it. A simple call can help you obtain mental health counseling or a referral. To learn more about the FEI Employee Assistance Program, click here.