Well, thankfully, 2020’s end is in sight. We can all enjoy a collective sigh of relief. But now that you have relaxed a bit, it is time to start stressing about the holidays — just in the “Nick” of time.

All kidding aside, this is always a stressful time of year, especially if you are a people pleaser. If you love all the preparations that go into the perfect Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas gifts or Halloween decorations, then this has been your season to shine. Unfortunately, there may be a cost. The 2018 statistics differ quite a bit on this — the American Psychological Association (APA) approximates that 38% of Americans feel stress during the holidays, while Principal Financial Group (PFG) found that the number was much higher, at 58%. If we dig deeper into the APA’s survey, we see 69% of those surveyed feel “extreme stress” of having not enough time to shop or not having enough funds to cover their purchases. Another 51% stress about the pressure to give gifts.

An older study conducted in 2008 showed that stressful holidays lead to an average of 2.14 days lost to “presenteeism.” You read that right. Presenteeism, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association, is almost as costly as illness-related absenteeism or disabilities, due to less productivity of those who are present but are not performing at full capacity. The dollar figure assigned to this depression-related loss is a staggering $35 billion (yes, with a B). For comparison, work-related and physical pain-related cases such as back pain, headaches, etc., result in around $47 billion in losses each year.

The first part of fixing anything is acknowledging the problem: The holidays are stressful. If we know there is a risk, then we ought to work on addressing that risk. Remember, OSHA encourages us to find hazards and work to eliminate them. It just so happens that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has a publication on this very topic, NIOSH 99-101, “Stress at Work.” It is worth the read. Job stressors are different then holiday stressors, for sure. However, both can have long-term ill effects.

Since we have acknowledged there is a hazard in the form of holiday stress, the next phase would be to manage that stress. Often, Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) provide some level of training on stress management; however, it is usually in the arena of work-related, not holiday-related, stress. The process is the same, though, and we all need help from time to time.

In the new era of COVID-19, either this problem may become mute or it may double in size. Employees working from home may feel as though they can never get away from their work. The need to get work done as well as decorate or shop for loved ones and co-workers can be overwhelming.

Some pointers and tips from the NIOSH 99-101 document, as referenced by the journal American Psychologist, are:

  • Ensure that the workload is in line with workers’ capabilities and resources.
  • Design jobs to provide meaning, stimulation and opportunities for workers to use their skills.
  • Clearly define workers’ roles and responsibilities.
  • Give workers opportunities to participate in decisions and actions affecting their jobs.
  • Improve communications to reduce uncertainty about career development and future employment prospects.
  • Provide opportunities for social interaction among workers.
  • Establish work schedules that are compatible with demands and responsibilities outside the job.

You will notice social interaction is on this list, showing how important it is for the human experience. We are social beings, after all. Along these lines is where we may see a spike in stressors. While Zoom, GoToMeeting and Microsoft Teams programs are fantastic tools for sure, there is something about meeting face-to-face.

I have had the fortune in my life to travel the country and the world through the military, as a dependent (I went to 11 schools growing up and lived in Japan and Greece) and as a service member, not to mention the countless travels for LP visits and training sessions. I have also been on mission trips through South and Central America and Europe. One truth I have observed: We, as the human race, need each other. We crave physical contact, like a handshake or a hug, universally. We like to look at the faces of those with which we communicate. We read mood, intent and feelings by facial expressions. A subtle eyebrow arch, ear lobe tug or lip twitch can express important information.

Unfortunately, we can miss these subtle clues quite easily while communicating with a mask on or through a two-dimensional screen. We have already experienced this difference when most of us began text messaging instead of talking. ALL CAPS might indicate anger, or it may mean the person just forgot to touch the caps lock button. Same principle.

Encourage your employees to come forward with feelings of stress. Provide some stress-management training, if possible. A study conducted by Investors in People, a workplace development group, found that most managers do not believe stress affects productivity. Managers need to start with the knowledge that stress plays a huge role in productivity. Come up with creative solutions to help your employees deal with and get through the stressful holidays. We already know it will pay off in the end. Showing support and working with your employees will produce a safer, healthier and more productive workplace.

I located some tips from some psychology and wellness websites. Here are a few I thought might help:

  • Exercise. Stress can cause weight gain, so exercise has a multipronged effect.
  • Diet. We all know this, so maybe it is time to start a healthy one already!
  • Hug your loved ones. Interesting how I mentioned this earlier and it is on the recommended list as a stress reliever.
  • Take time for leisure activities, especially while working from home. Cut out time in your day to get away from the computer and to put your phone on silent.
  • Interestingly, having an attitude of gratitude made this list. Listing those things you are grateful for instead of thinking about the things that are causing an inconvenience goes a long way in reducing stress.
  • Lastly, cut that thing out that is causing the stress, if it is unbearable.

We have all felt that our world has changed since COVID-19 hit. We are not in public as much, we are not at the office physically as much, and our contact with others has been limited by mandate. Add this to normal holiday stress, and people may really begin to feel overwhelmed.

We as an industry can and should do what is possible to help our fellow workers and employees. We have enough uncertainty already. This year of 2020, maybe more than ever, will bring us an even stronger reason to celebrate the holidays, hopefully together. All this being said, here is to hoping for a brighter tomorrow and wonderful 2021, and maybe we can all put this horrendous 2020 behind us.