We’re coming up on that time of year that is traditionally one of the most stressful, but this year will have a twist: Holiday Season 2021 will be the first time that many families gather together since before the recent global health crisis.
For business leaders and workers across industries, it’s true that companies have made strides in addressing mental health gaps, but long-term mental health must remain a priority through the rest of the year. The team behind the website Healthline conducted a 2016 survey, around mental health, and they found that over 60% of all respondents felt some stress during the holiday season. So, it’s very likely that you or even your normally tenacious colleagues and friends will be feeling the pressure more than usual over the next couple of months.
Planning strategically for the holidays, both at work and in personal matters, with mindfulness toward protecting long-term mental health goals is one helpful approach. Here are some behavioral health-backed tips on how everyone, including leaders, can manage the stress of the season, get work done, and prioritize yourself, too.
Show kindness to yourself and others
It’s easy to get caught up in the rigors of the holiday season, between end-of-year deadlines, family obligations, parties with friends and colleagues, and holiday gift shopping (anticipated to be even more challenging this year due to supply chain issues). With so many factors at play, it’s equally easy to lose sight of the true meaning of these holidays—a time to be kind, be generous whenever possible, be thankful, and gather together.
No matter what holiday pressures exist in your schedule, take time each week to be kind to yourself and others. Make time to de-stress, whether you do mindfulness exercises before or at the end of each day, or attend regular therapy sessions, go to an exercise class, or something else that works for you. When engaging with others, kindness goes a long way, especially this year with retail sales staff spread thin. In the workplace, helping others manage their workload will encourage everyone on the team to enjoy holiday time.
Lastly, whether you give of your time or money to worthy causes, performing small acts of service to others has a big impact on mental health. Studies show that people who spend time volunteering see a positive effect on their health and well-being. Many families have charitable giving as part of their holiday tradition as a way to celebrate the meaning of the holidays. This year, if you’re looking for a new way to show and share kindness, take the opportunity to start a new tradition, and give back.
Keep work flexible during the holidays
Expect another unique holiday season this year—unlike last year, many workers have been asked to return to the office since Labor Day and into November, as COVID-19 infection rates were seen dropping. However, this doesn’t mean the year will end with a full return to pre-pandemic “business as usual.” The past year has shown that after so many months working from home or in hybrid work arrangements, employees are less inclined to comply with rigid office guidelines and schedules.
Employees give close attention to their values around the holidays and evaluate whether their employer aligns with those values. For leaders and managers, be careful about messaging with your staff and keep an eye toward retention. A the new year begins, employees will be looking to leave for roles that better align with their values, no matter their industry or income level. The holiday season is a key time to practice empathy in the workplace.
Consider allowing more flexibility in schedules, start times, and locations to encourage employees to travel and enjoy their holiday time. While there may be limitations to flexibility depending on the industry, across the board, workers report feeling burned out, especially in certain industries like hospitality, retail, healthcare, manufacturing, and production.
As a leader or manager, be sensitive to two key factors this year that are different from years prior: One, this could be the first time since before the pandemic that many employees are gathering with their families to celebrate holiday traditions. Two, this year, many families will gather while facing significant loss of a loved one due to the pandemic. In some cases, this may be a family’s first major gathering to mourn their loss since stricter limitations on large gatherings were lifted. For so many, this holiday season will be all about balancing love and loss; as a leader, showing empathy to workers and staying flexible can make a difference in employee retention into 2022.
Focus on what you can control
As someone who works in the mental health industry, I have one reminder I like to give others during the holiday season: Each person only has control over his or her actions, not those of others. To reduce the amount of stress you feel this holiday season, try to focus on what you can control, such as your own decisions, rather than using your valuable time and energy trying to control others around you. This attitude is helpful both at work and with family.
In the workplace, plan ahead to make sure your work is well-managed during the holidays. You may not be able to stop new deadlines from coming in, but taking extra time to get organized will help you manage unexpected changes with finesse. Set clear boundaries around the things you can and can’t accomplish during the holidays; also, communicate early and often your planned time off with your team so that they can plan accordingly.
Setting boundaries is also helpful during holiday gatherings, particularly around universal stressors like family dynamics and political talk. This year, these topics may overlap with health-related views, creating an even bigger elephant in the room. If possible, arrange a family discussion beforehand. Encourage tabling politics and putting differences aside and focus on commonalities like enjoying time together and revisiting favorite traditions.
Talk to a mental health expert
One positive outcome of the past 20 months has been a greater focus on addressing mental health issues. Talk therapy is gaining more mainstream acceptance for a variety of mental health needs. We expect this trend to continue, and even increase over the holidays, as people get in touch to work through holiday stress or feelings of grief and loss, which can escalate during the holidays.
Be open to talking with someone about ongoing stressors in your life, whether they are work related, family dynamics, or other personal concerns. Reach out to a close, trusted friend, if available, or seek professional help from a licensed therapist or counselor. The key is to remember that if you are struggling, you’re not alone, help is available to you. The holidays are a time when tensions can come to a head, so get ahead of it now by talking to an expert.
Long-term mental health has gained new attention both in the workplace and in our everyday lives. The holiday season is often seen as a time of positive change and renewal, and reconnecting with closely held values, even through the stress of events and family. Start the new year fresh (and refreshed) by ensuring that your work goals are well-managed and your mental health goals stay in the picture.
Mark Debus is a manager of behavioral health services at Sedgwick.