Tips to Deal with Holiday Stress

It’s the day after Halloween and you know what that means … Christmas decorations are already out at the department stores. (Even my five-year-old noticed and commented that it’s “not even Halloween yet and there’s Christmas stuff over there!”)

But Halloween kicks off the unofficial “holiday season.” No doubt most of us already have Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations on the calendar, deciding when this family can gather with that family and whose in-laws are hosting Thanksgiving dinner.

Holiday stress

It can get stressful, which can lead to all sorts of health and mental well-being issues. And the feelings that come with grief over the loss of a loved one or broken relationships can become amplified this time of the year.

The Mayo Clinic has some helpful tips to work through the season and hopefully reclaim some holiday joy. A few: Help yourself by sticking to a budget, planning ahead and maintaining healthy habits (try to avoid taking a fork to the pie pan; it won’t make you feel better in the long term). And if the stress becomes overwhelming, seek professional help from your doctor or mental health provider.

Here are other tips:

  • Acknowledge your feelings. If someone close to you has recently died or you can’t be with loved ones, realize that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. It’s OK to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season.
  • Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events. They can offer support and companionship. Volunteering your time to help others also is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships.
  • Be realistic. The holidays don’t have to be perfect or just like last year. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones. For example, if your adult children can’t come to your house, find new ways to celebrate together, such as sharing pictures, emails or videos.
  • Set aside differences. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to all of your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. And be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they’re feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression, too.
  • Learn to say no. Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can’t participate in every project or activity. If it’s not possible to say no when your boss asks you to work overtime, try to remove something else from your agenda to make up for the lost time.
  • Take a breather. Make some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm.

Don’t Forget to R-EAP the Benefits of Employer-Sponsored Plans

While salary, vacation time, insurance payments and creature comforts are the highly-touted employer benefits offered to employees, there’s an extremely valuable resource that doesn’t always get the attention it deserves: the Employee Assistance Plan (EAP).

Though benefits change from plan to plan, an EAP often covers services such as free counseling or therapy sessions, phone or internet-based counseling options, assistance with elder care/child care, financial assistance, stress management, help with legal concerns, addiction and recovery assistance, concierge or convenience services and more.

While not all companies offer the plans, over three-quarters of employers named to the 2017 Best Places to Work in Indiana list reported offering an EAP to their employees. And as the top-rated workplaces in the state based on their own employee surveys, they must all be on to something.

I sat down with the Indiana Chamber’s director of human resources, Michelle Kavanaugh, SPHR, to discuss why EAPs are sometimes underutilized and what human resources professionals can do to help boost involvement. She points to the EAP often getting lost in the open enrollment or new hire process.

“The benefits process and open enrollment can be overwhelming to people; they’re just trying to figure out the medical side of insurance and a lot of times the extras get missed,” she offers. “The EAP benefits that people hear about, you just sort of put them away and don’t think you’ll ever need to use it.”

Another issue is the stigma that surrounds mental health.

“There is also a misconception about reaching out for help with mental health issues that prevents people from utilizing it too,” she adds.

Her recommendations for getting the word out include utilizing existing communications methods – highlighting various pieces of the EAP in a company newsletter, for example. And using personal testimonials from employees who have benefitted from the resources can make a big impact.

My personal testimonial is this: I was never aware of the benefits of an EAP myself (I have no idea if any of my previous employers even offered such a service) until the time came that I needed additional help outside of the office, particularly after my first daughter was born and I struggled with post-partum anxiety. My first piece of advice to any friend or family member dealing with myriad issues is, “Does your employer offer an EAP? Go talk to your human resources representative and find out.”

Employers benefit from offering the programs as well. While I don’t have return on investment numbers to share, it’s well documented that emotional and mental well-being are critical to employee performance and productivity. If employees are able to manage their stress – financial, emotional, family and otherwise – outside of the workplace, they’re less likely to have those issues impact their performance on the job.

Help your bottom line by ensuring your employees know they have valuable resources available to them. Or, if you don’t have an EAP, talk to your benefits provider about how to get started. And don’t forget to spread the word to your employees – it only works if they use it!