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Managing your Mental Health Around the Holiday Season
The holidays are right around the corner, and for many, that fills them with joy and relaxation. For many more, however, the idea of the holidays fills them with stress, dread, or other negative feelings. Financial obligations, feeling over-committed, difficult family situations, scheduling conflicts, and more can lead to stress and anxiety. For some, the holidays are a painful reminder of loved ones with whom they cannot be. During this time, it’s essential for people to plan ahead so they can avoid stress. If you’re one of those people, read on to discover some helpful tips. If you’re an employer concerned about your team's well-being, you can take these ideas to heart and share them with your people ahead of the holidays. If your company has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), it might be a great time to remind them about this and how they can utilize those services.
If you or someone you know are struggling to focus on the positive and are dreading what should be a happy time, there are some helpful tips you can employ to make the most out of your holidays and refocus yourself so that you can deal with the stress and enjoy some time by yourself and/or with your loved ones.
Some of the most common causes of stress around the holidays are:
- Stress around gift-giving
- Finances and holiday expenses
- Time constraints and scheduling issues
- Depression and/or anxiety
- Family conflict
- Travel-related stress
- Work-life balance
If you’ve struggled with one or more of these issues in the past, you know how it can suck the life out of what should be a fun time, and while there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, here are some tips to help you make the most out of your holiday and cope with the specific stressors listed above.
If you experience stress around gift-giving, try communicating some alternative solutions to your family/friend group:
- If you worry about getting the right thing, encourage everyone to make a wish list and share it with the group
- If you have too many people to get gifts for, propose a secret gift exchange or a white elephant game
- Set a budget or category-related constraints around gifts to help keep things simple
- Focus on experiential gifts or follow the 4-gift rule: many families are embracing the 4-gift rule for the holidays with their children. Something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read.
It can be difficult to think about anything else if you’re struggling with financial stress around the holidays. Some ways to avoid overspending are:
- Focus on experiences and quality time with loved ones – board games, party games, outdoor activities, etc.
- Set budget limits with family and friends when exchanging gifts
- Don’t over-commit to traveling or family obligations
- Work with family and friends to pool resources when possible
- Volunteer your time in place of spending on significant gifts or travel
To avoid stress from time constraints and scheduling fiascos, communication and planning are key.
- Begin planning as early as possible. Talk with family and friends shortly after the holidays to begin planning for the following year to avoid last-minute scheduling issues.
- Cut yourself some slack. You can’t do everything, see everyone, and go everywhere, so commit to one or two reasonable things and don’t overstretch
- Communicate with others – share a calendar with family to avoid any confusion.
The holidays can be especially difficult for those who have lost loved ones, can’t be with family, or are otherwise preoccupied with grief or isolation during this time. This can be particularly hard to overcome as some of the root causes of these issues may require therapeutic intervention or more than just simple tips. That being said, some things that can help:
- If you are unable to be with loved ones, technology can help. Schedule virtual get-togethers or other activities you can do over video call
- Volunteering for charities or nonprofits that need your help can be a great way to be around people and feel helpful while making a difference.
- If you can’t travel or can’t be with family, consider inviting friends or neighbors to be together who might also be struggling to get together with their loved ones
Depression and/or Anxiety
If you’ve been diagnosed with depression or anxiety, the holidays can be full of triggers that might fill you with dread as time approaches. It’s important to talk with your therapist about how you can develop coping skills or be better prepared for the challenges to come. If you are not currently seeing a therapist, you might have the option to see one through the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) through your employer. Talk to your HR department or your supervisor about how to get connected with your EAP. Some EAPs like Espyr have services like TalkNow® that will immediately connect you to a licensed counselor with no wait times or referral process.
The holidays are a time to gather with loved ones, and while many of us love getting together with our family or friends, sometimes this can be stressful too. Do you have a difficult family member (or several)?
- Keep an open mind – heading into a gathering expecting to butt heads with someone will make that even more likely. Be prepared to have a positive experience with everyone, which will become the more likely outcome.
- Communicate with other family and friends who might be sympathetic to your situation and can help keep the peace.
- Set boundaries. Prepare some phrases and coping skills ahead of time in case conflicts arise.
- Talk to a therapist or counselor, or even a professional from your EAP who can help you prepare for the possibility of
Even if you have your finances and scheduling issues under control, traveling can be highly stressful as so much of it is out of your control. Weather, delays, long lines, traffic, and more can break even the best-laid plans.
- Be open-minded – “The only difference between an adventure and an ordeal is your attitude.” A positive attitude and adaptability will help you enjoy yourself even when things go wrong.
- Have a backup plan in case something goes awry.
- Communicate with loved ones and share travel plans ahead of time so you don’t have to worry about updating them during travel.
- Whenever possible, give yourself an extra day or two, or even a few hours, when planning to travel as a
Another difficult aspect of the holidays is balancing your work and personal life. While this is an ongoing struggle for most people, the holidays can make it incredibly stressful while planning trips, time off work, and considering financial obligations. It can also be difficult to enjoy family time when you’re preoccupied with work. If you’re a manager, business owner, or HR professional, you might also be concerned about how this stress might affect your team leading up to and following the holidays. Here are some tips for employees and employers to help balance work and life during the holidays:
- Be flexible. Happy team members are productive, and no one will be getting more work done when they’re worried they can’t follow through on their plans.
- Communicate: Effective, abundant, and early communication about holiday time off and other issues will help avoid confusion.
- Remind team members about the EAP and encourage utilization during a stressful times.
- Encourage family time: It’s nice to do something for your team during the holidays to show your appreciation but adding obligations like too many parties, or gift exchanges can add to their stress. Prioritize time away from the office when possible.
- Communicate: Effective, abundant, and early communication about holiday plans and vacation time will help avoid confusion.
- Ask your supervisor or HR department about your company’s EAP and use it! They can help you de-stress and plan solutions for work-life balance during the holidays.
- Talk to your boss and colleagues about expectations around the holidays. How can you prepare your workload so that you can completely unplug during the personal time?
- Prioritize your well-being. The holidays offer a break from work to unplug, recharge, and relax so you can be your best self.
The holidays are meant to be a happy time filled with joy, connection, family, and relaxation. The obligations placed on us by work, family, and life can bring stress and negative feelings, but there are ways to overcome those challenges. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, reach out to a professional, or connect with a counselor through your employer’s EAP.
It is crucial to prioritize your well-being during the holidays, and with the proper preparations and helpful tips, you can make the most of it no matter your situation. Check out our new Guide to Maintaining Employee Mental Health Around The Holidays.