Silicon Mountain
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Silicon Mountain

Everyone Has Stress

We haven’t replaced ourselves with robots… yet.

It is the holiday season. For many of us that means celebration with close friends, family, coworkers, or reflection on the happenings of the past year. It is supposed to be a celebratory time, at least that’s what all of the marketing and advertisement keeps telling us. Given that this happens during the shortest daylight periods of the year is also definitely a contributing factor. I have a bit of a hypothesis on how we influence each other during the holiday season that actually results in more unintended stress.


The act of giving is highly rewarding. Whether it be a token of appreciation or a white elephant joke gift, the intent is generally positive. However, the gift buying process ranges from the fun of a zonk-like prize (think Let’s Make a Deal) to the thoughtful gift for a close friend, spouse, child, family member. In the defense workspace it gets even more complicated. Gift limits apply for federal workers but not as much for their contractor counterparts. Undue influence is avoidable, but it does put a barrier up for participation between folks who enjoy working together. Or, even a barrier to personal friendships that are complicated by these rules.

In personal life, this is also a stressor. You may come from a large family and understand the complexity of knowing enough about each other to be thoughtful and not redundant in gift giving. As adults you may have the means to buy things for yourself and complicate the gift process for your friends and family through your impetuous purchasing habits. Money may be tighter for some in a family and the limits imposed may be too much for some and seemingly too little for others. Plus — do you frankly need more ‘stuff’?

There seems to be a growing movement away from material items to experiences. This is intriguing because often times these ideas are more expensive than the already stressful buy of the material item. If you’re able to coordinate with others it adds another layer of complexity.

External Contributions to Stress

Beyond the challenges inherent with gift giving at this time of year, there are many unseen variables in lives of your coworkers, peers, reports, and bosses. There are two that impact all of us and almost culturally more the government side of things.

Most people in government work are working hard throughout the year. There is a baseline stress that happens and can be teetering on the edge of healthy stress during non-holiday, non-sunlight-starved seasons for us north of the equator. Now enter the ‘use or lose’ vacation scenario. At the end of the year, many government buildings start to form tumbleweed as vacation balances and holidays create a perfect storm where offices start to sit vacant for a couple of weeks. That’s healthy, I support it.

The challenge is two-fold. One, inevitably people have ‘bursts’ of activity before taking vacation. December can be one of the more productive, or at minimum busy times of the year for the government. As a large number of leaders and their workers head to holidays, they want to make sure to deliver on their mission all twelve months of the year. Additionally, any time off creates a backlog of work. Turns out an operating government does not have an ‘off’ button (though the threat of turning it off is turning into a common political lever). Instead, requests or needs pile up and early calendar year promises a need for an excavator to dig out of the pending activity. Both the initial push and the looming backlog can weigh on all of us in unpredictable ways.

In addition, this time of year we all tend to congregate. Friends and family may be visiting. They could be back from college, from out of town, or local. Heck, they may even be staying with you. Now imagine — your in-laws are staying in your house. Your kids are back from college and they brought a friend. Your sibling and parents are a few towns away and you have to figure out how to plan a ceaseless set of family dependencies and desires to celebrate. Also, work holiday parties and Covid have done their damage and you’re starting to lug around a 4x4 tire from sitting and eating cakes, turkeys, hams, etc. You’re off to your fourth company or friend’s holiday party.

All of this is to say — when leaders in the government or in industry work with their employees, it is important to take a step back and appreciate we might not see the whole picture of why someone is stressed. This is not unique to the holidays, but holidays can exacerbate other stressors in life like health issues, deaths, loss of a job — things that happen everyday. During these celebratory times, taking a moment to ask someone who appears to be struggling about their life is important. Remember, while you may see or work with them for most of the day, we all have other factors at play. Having acknowledgement of those can sometimes help alleviate the stress. Listen first.

Next week will likely be the last rant of 2021. The topic will be about nonverbal or subconscious reactions to failure.




Silicon Mountain is a small company based out of Denver, CO with multiple SBIR awards. We deliver DevSecOps as a service to enable our employees and customers to own their mission success.

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Michael Downard

Michael Downard

Michael works for a small business as Principal Investigator for multiple SBIR awards and earned a part-time MBA from George Mason and is both a PMP & PMI-ACP.

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