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    The holiday season is a time to spend with loved ones, gift giving, holiday parties, and activities that build momentum from Halloween throughout the end of the year. It is a time of the year that is dedicated to filling our hearts with togetherness and cheer. However, for many Americans, the holiday season can be met with higher levels of stress, as found in a recent poll with 80% of people finding the holiday season to be “somewhat” or “very stressful”. Another survey by the American Psychological Association (2018) found that 38% of people stated their stress level increased during the holidays.

    This year, the holiday season has an additional and extraordinary source of stress:  the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic with its enormous social, psychological, and economic impacts on everyday life.  For many, it will be a disappointing holiday with travel and gathering size restrictions preventing families from traditional holiday get- togethers.

    What Causes Higher Levels of Holiday Stress?

    • ‘Tis the season for an excess amount of everything. Often, experiencing too many activities can end up leaving us feeling overwhelmed and anxious. With the overload of holiday events and parties, shopping lists, and other holiday related to-do lists, people may experience higher levels of stress. This could lead to negative impacts on our health, both mentally and physically.
    • An overabundance in eating, drinking, and financial spending as the occasions to socialize continue to grow throughout the season. These overindulgences may lead to consequences including debt, weight gain, or even memories of embarrassing behavior that seem to linger in our minds long after the season ends.
    • Both a lack of or too much time spent with families can be a stress factor. While the holidays are a special time to bond with family members, spending too much time with families can put a toll on healthy relationship balances between bonding and alone time. It can be a challenging time for those that have gone through a recent loss of a loved one as it can be a reminder of their grief or loneliness. Or those with serious pre-existing behavioral health conditions that require careful management year-round. Or those in recovery from alcohol or other drug misuse or addiction. Especially with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this time of year people may feel lonelier.  That can be especially true for those that are used to being in large family settings for the holidays in prior years. For many people, even in the best of times – which 2020 is not, the holiday season can create a time of troubling false comparisons. Comparing themselves and their situation to a romanticized and unobtainable ideal whereby their perceived shortcomings create negative emotions like sadness, frustration, and even despair.

    Impact of Holiday Stress from a Business Perspective

    For businesses, the impact of holiday stress can affect employees, as many workers are present but show underperformance.  This phenomenon is called presenteeism. According to the Australian Institute of Management, the impact of showing up for work with “hidden ills” such as holiday stress outweighs the cost of absenteeism by as much as 400%. Excessive stress can also lead to depression, which according to the Journal of the American Medical Association, sets U.S. employers back by around $35 billion per year in reduced work performance. Other work-related holiday stressors may include working overtime to make extra money, losing weekends to prepare for the holidays, lack of work-schedule flexibility, short deadlines, and the pressure to meet end-of-year goals, as well as added holiday events at work (virtual or socially distanced in-person events) that further add to the to-do lists.

    Employers Can Help Reduce Holiday Stress

    Employers have the power to maintain a positive environment in the workplace by controlling variables that create holiday stress and reduce productivity. One way to do this is by allowing employees to reasonably use their paid time off during this time or offering flexible schedules to allow for holiday preparations and events. Other ideas include giving employees a gift from the company, providing bonuses for attendance as an incentive to promote productivity, scheduling holiday events during normal business hours, reminding employees of how their Employee Assistance Program (EAP) can provide confidential one-to-one assistance, providing holiday food, and allowing employees to telecommute on some days during the season to save commute time.

    Speaking of your EAP, right now is a great time to reach out to your EAP to see what kind of educational services it provides to help employees prepare for the inevitable holiday stress. You might be surprised at the resources that are available.

    While the holiday season can be an exciting and joyous time for many, it is important for employers to be aware of the added stress that employees might be dealing with, as well as the repercussions of those stressors – especially in this extraordinary year of 2020. Taking into consideration how businesses can control the amount of stress they might be adding to their workers, as well as being mindful of different approaches to holiday-related work factors, can be beneficial in reducing the amount of stress and increasing productivity during this time of year.

    About the Authors

    Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP, NCAC II is the Chief Clinical Officer at Espyr. For over 30 years, Norman has practiced in mental health, substance misuse, and EAP settings. He has also worked in leadership positions in both public and private sector behavioral health organizations. An author of four books, he is frequently called on for presentations and as a panelist to share his expertise and experience as a mental health professional.

    Yeji Jang, MSW Intern, is a graduate intern at Espyr, working in the Network and Provider Relations Department and with Espyr’s Chief Clinical Officer.  A graduate of the University of Georgia with a B.S. in Psychology, and having worked with immigrant populations, she is currently finishing her last semester at Indiana University’s Graduate School of Social Work. After graduation, Yeji will pursue the goal of becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), and then wants to practice clinical social work in a behavioral health setting.

    About Espyr

    For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized counseling, coaching and consulting solutions help people and organizations achieve their full potential by providing mental health support and driving positive behavioral change.  For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.



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