Managing Holiday Stress at Work in 2021—man in glasses with hands together looking down at floor|guided meditation for holiday stress—woman kneeling in snow with hands folded together

Managing Holiday Stress at Work: How to Prepare Your Team for the Holidays

Haeli Harris
August 23, 2022
October 9, 2022

With summer wrapping up and kids returning to school, the holidays aren't necessarily top of mind. However, any seasoned HR leader know that preparation for managing holiday stress at work starts now.  Employees have been through a lot these past few holiday seasons. Isolation, the pandemic, transitioning to remote work (and possibly back to in-person work again), impending deadlines, and more have increased stress overall, especially around the holidays.  Company leaders have a great opportunity to help employees manage holiday stress at work. For best results, leaders need to start thinking about and making plans for the holidays now to support employees through this season.  

The causes of holiday stress at work

The holidays can be a time of great joy and great stress. For many, the holidays can be exhausting.  Before 2020, nearly 50% of women and about 30% of men reported increased stress during the holidays. Increased demands at home and work can lead to high levels of stress and burnout. Work-life balance becomes even more challenging during this time of year.

Many employees also deal with Seasonal Affective Disorder, grief, anxiety, relationship challenges, and financial struggles during the holiday season.

Throw on top of that end-of-year deadlines, and you have a recipe for a stressed-out workforce.  

Related: 6 Signs Your Employees are Struggling with Mental Health

Managing Holiday Stress at Work in 2021—man in glasses with hands together looking down at floor

How to Manage Holiday Stress at Work

Here are three simple but effective ways to address employee anxiety around the holidays and help reduce holiday stress at work.

  1. Ramp up your mental health program
  3. Encourage taking breaks
  5. Teach your managers how to support their teams
  7. Follow along to a holiday stress meditation

1. Ramp up your mental health program

HR leaders—if you already have wellness benefits in place, remind your employees about it via email or during a company meeting.  Direct them to resources that may help them manage their holiday stress. Remind them that accessing the company EAP or mental health program is confidential.  Motivate them to use the wellness program by holding little challenges. For example, encourage everyone to do a guided meditation every Wednesday and talk about their experiences during your team meeting later that day. Even better—do a guided meditation for holiday stress together (more on that in #4!).

You can help employees manage holiday stress at work by giving them permission to be human. It's okay to feel down. It's okay to have days where you aren't as productive. It's okay to take a mental health day. And it's okay to take breaks.

Related: The Step-by-Step Guide to Increase EAP Utilization

If you don't have a mental health program yet, now is a great time to add one to your benefits package. That way, you can help prepare your team for the inevitable influx of stress before it hits. It is easier to manage holiday stress at work if employees have the tools to take care of themselves first.

Also, creating solid mental health initiatives at your company is a gift your team will appreciate.

2. Encourage taking breaks

If you are a company leader, you are in a great position to set an example of how to manage holiday stress at work. Your actions can help shape the company culture and climate during the holiday season.

For example, if employees see you taking breaks, they will start to feel more comfortable taking breaks themselves.

With so many demands during the holiday season—especially for working parents—it can be hard to find the time to recharge. Your company can be a place where breaks are welcome. Breaks are necessary not only for peak productivity but for our physical wellness and mental health.

Normalize taking midday breaks to run holiday errands, if needed. Tell employees that it is reasonable and even necessary to take workday breaks. You can even send them this article on how to take breaks at work.

If employees are still running on steam, bake break time into a workday once per week. We've heard HR leaders creating Friday midday breaks where employees were strongly encouraged not to message, email, or have meetings for a couple of hours in the middle of the workday. Employees were free to step away from work to run errands, take care of themselves, or spend time with their kids. Employees were also free to take that time to knock out tasks.

Giving employees the space and trust to take care of themselves will help them manage holiday stress.

3. Teach your managers how to support their teams

Your managers play a huge role in helping employees manage holiday stress at work.

Managers have an excellent opportunity to help employees feel supported. They can help employees adjust their goals, tasks, and deadlines so everyone can stress less and do a better job—personally and professionally.

If you haven't already, sit down with your company managers and discuss mental health with their direct reports. Here are some resources on the topic that could help you get started:

Encourage managers to check in with their direct reports on:

  • Workload
  • Deadlines
  • Priorities
  • Mental health and stress

Have a candid conversation about workload and the ability to reach deadlines. What is a proper priority, and what can wait? What resources do we need to bring on to achieve goals on time? What are the expectations?  Getting on the same page about these topics can help reduce holiday stress at work.

One-on-one meetings are also an excellent opportunity to provide positive feedback. When employee anxiety is high, kind words can make a huge difference.

4. Follow along with a holiday stress meditation

Meditation is of the most highly recommended stress management techniques by therapists.  Check out a 20-minute guided meditation for holiday stress that you can do with your team here. At Nivati, we set aside time during every company-wide meeting to have a Mindful Moment where we meditate together.

Once you've all completed the meditation, talk about how you feel now. Do you feel calmer? More centered? More at peace?

Try doing this holiday stress meditation in the morning before all the day's tasks start to bog down your mind. Meditating is a great way to set the tone for the rest of your day.  

guided meditation for holiday stress—woman kneeling in snow with hands folded together

How do I manage my holiday stress at work?

Are you feeling the holiday anxieties, too? Here are some holiday stress management tips for you.

1. Prioritize self-care

What brings you joy? What fills you up and gives you energy?

Set aside consistent time to do those things, even if it's just for a few minutes each day.

Here are some holiday stress management and self-care ideas:

  • Wrap up in a warm blanket and meditate
  • Get into something comfy and do yoga
  • Create something (bake cookies, paint a picture, do some woodworking, etc.)
  • Exercise (indoors is totally fine)
  • Drink a warm cup of tea or coffee and do nothing else for a while
  • Read a book
  • Spend time in nature

Setting aside time to take care of yourself will help you have the energy for work, family, gift shopping, and all the other holiday stressors.

For more, check out How to Prioritize Self-Care and Your Mental Health.

2. Set realistic expectations

If you are concerned about meeting your goals and deadlines, talk to your manager about it. Be honest about what you can get done during the holiday season.  Remember—it's okay to say no to new tasks. If you always try to make everyone else happy, you won't have a lot of energy left for yourself.  Be realistic and flexible when things don't go exactly how you'd like them. Remember that it is okay when things don't go as planned. Do your best to focus on the good. Try writing down the things you are grateful for or the things that went well that day.

3. Seek support

Talking about your struggles with those you trust can help you heal. It can help you reconnect with yourself and other people.

Consider meeting with a therapist to talk about your challenges. They will help you gain the tools to take care of yourself and cope with holiday stress at work.

4. Follow along with a guided meditation for holiday stress on your own

If you don't have a chance to do a meditation with your team, take some time to do one yourself.

Here is how to do a holiday stress meditation solo, step by step.

  1. Find a comfortable place to sit, and bring your attention to your breath. Close your eyes, if you'd like.
  3. Take a few slow, deep breaths. Notice how your body and mind are feeling without judging yourself. What thoughts come to mind? What is stressing you about the holidays? Are you tense? What emotions do you feel?
  5. Imagine a happy holiday memory you have. Think about all the little details, and enjoy reliving the experience. What were the smells? The sounds? How did you feel at the time?
  7. Imagine your loved ones and what you feel for them, or focus on what you are grateful for this holiday season. Or, you can try to empty your mind and focus on the right now. Do this for at least 5 minutes.
  9. Take a few deep breaths and open your eyes if you had them closed. Write down how you feel now and what you learned. Repeat this practice to help reduce your holiday stress overall.

Your company can become a space where people feel supported. By following these tips, you'll make some significant steps towards making mental health a priority in your workplace, especially around the holidays.

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Haeli Harris
Haeli Harris
Haeli Harris, LMFT is the Director of Clinical Operations at Nivati. She has been practicing as a Marriage and Family Therapist since 2014. Haeli has experience working as a therapist in private practice settings, residential facilities, outpatient treatment care, schools, and telehealth.