Wellness pros can help organizations as they seek to reduce employees’ holiday season stress

With many forced to reevaluate and cancel meaningful gatherings with friends and family, how can employers address feelings of loss and isolation?

By Meghan Madhavan      
How wellness pros can alleviate holiday isolation

The holiday season is often portrayed as a time of joy and cheer, but even without the weight of a global pandemic it can be a highly stressful season for many.

During a recent Workplace Wellness Insider and Virgin Pulse webinar, Dr. Gary Smithson, a member of the Virgin Pulse Science Advisory Board, shared some surprising figures around mental health during the holidays.

He shared that 1 in 4 Americans experience “extreme stress” during the holiday season, and 45% of Americans would actually prefer to skip the Christmas holiday.

Having to make travel plans, balance work, afford gifts and entertain guests can leave many feeling overwhelmed—and the pressures are only higher in 2020. Families are now also grappling with the decision of whether or not to see loved ones, the anxiety around rising COVID-19 infection rates, and the financial strain created by the pandemic.

Dr. Smithson stressed that this has serious implications for public health. Mental health disorders already accounted for 20% of the global disease burden, and 53% of adults in the United States reported that their mental health has declined due to the pandemic.

Mental stress can take a significant toll on physical health, having short- and long-term effects on almost every major system in the body. As a result, it can significantly diminish an individual’s ability to thrive in both their personal and professional life.

Employers can play a significant role in helping their workforce manage the combined stress of the holiday season and the pandemic—and ensuring they’re able to bring their best selves to their jobs.

Dr. Smithson shared a few behaviors that can help mitigate the mental and physical impact of stress, which organizations should foster in their employees. Exercise, proper nutrition, and reducing consumption of alcohol, drugs and caffeine are all critical to managing stress—unfortunately, they’re often behaviors that go out the window during the holiday season.

Prachi Patel, director of product marketing for Virgin Pulse, emphasized the importance of offering employees resources to be mindful of these behaviors during the holiday season. At-home fitness and nutrition apps can be hugely beneficial to your workforce, as can budgeting apps that help them manage financial stress. Programs encouraging mindfulness and meditation can also help employees better process and manage the unavoidable stress they’re facing during the holidays.

Both speakers reiterated that with trust in other institutions falling, employees are turning to their workplace for guidance more than ever. As they battle higher-than-ever levels of stress in this time of year, helping them cope is crucial to keeping trust and morale high.