Heightened financial pressures, unrealistic social expectations, and other stressors can take the fun out of the holiday season for some and even make them less attentive at work, but employers can play a role in reducing holiday stress and anxiety.
Recent surveys by Ellevest and Bankrate found many respondents felt pressured to overspend on presents, travel, social outings, and charitable donations during the holidays.
Financial worry is only part of the stress equation. The resurgence of COVID-19 has further compounded anxiety for some who already may be struggling through the holiday season.
“The truth is some people struggle during winter months and might dread the holiday season, in part because there’s an expectation that it should be a joyous time of year,” said Karie Batzler, director of behavioral health for Capital Blue Cross. “That expectation doesn’t always match how they are feeling emotionally. With so much negative news over such a long period of time, it can be hard for us to feel happy or optimistic.”
Unchecked stress, anxiety, and depression can increase absenteeism or make it difficult for some employees to focus, make decisions, and manage time, according to the American Psychiatric Association.
To help combat holiday and other stressors, some companies, including Capital Blue Cross, offer Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs). These confidential services can help people cope with financial or family stress, addiction, grieving, and other mental health challenges.
“Maintaining our mental wellness can be a challenge,” Batzler said. “The reality is that we all have problems from time to time, and in-house EAPs are a meaningful way for companies to show they care in times of need.”
Employers also can encourage employees to take needed time off, and in some cases can create flexible scheduling that allows employees time to attend family or school events.
Don’t discount the value of encouraging employees to stay fit, said Gina McDonald, a senior health coach, certified trainer, and American College of Sports Medicine-certified exercise physiologist at Capital Blue Cross.
“Working to build 150 minutes per week of moderate activity into your lifestyle through the holidays is a great gift to give yourself,” she said. “Motion creates emotion. Being stagnant or unfocused can make you less motivated.”
Keep it simple, McDonald said.
“For example, take a quick walk up and down the supermarket aisles before grabbing your cart to shop. … Turn house cleaning and holiday decorating into a family event. Blast the music and have fun as a unit working towards one goal,” McDonald said.
“Take a walk or play a movement game after the big holiday meal,” she added. “No matter what, keep the mantra, ‘something over nothing,’ running through your mind. Any time dedicated to movement is a win.”