Whether or not you are living with a mental illness, the festive period can be a difficult and stressful time for some – particularly in the workplace.
HR professionals report a rise in employment complaints, absences, poor performance and conflict around this time of year, which is unsurprising given the added pressure put on employees to meet deadlines and ‘wrap things up before Christmas time’.
Jill Mead, founder of TalkOut – an organization created to tackle mental health stigma in the workplace – shares her advice on managing stress in the office as we approach the festive season.
Work aside, this time of year generally brings poor weather and shorter days, leaving some people suffering from Seasonal Affected Disorder (SAD). This can impact mood, self-esteem, sleeping patterns, and appetite, leaving sufferers feeling lethargic, stressed and tearful, with no motivation.
Christmas can also be a complex and emotional time for some, with feelings of loneliness or grief over an absent loved one, or being forced to confront family conflict as people reunite for celebrations. Add to this, heavy workloads, jam-packed calendars, and financial strain, it’s no wonder that stress and mental health issues are often presented in the workplace during Christmas time.
While some of these factors are out of our control, there are steps that can be followed to alleviate feelings of stress and anxiety both inside and outside of the workplace…
Get outside and move
Getting a daily dose of daylight can be tricky at this time of year, particularly as our commuting hours get darker. However, getting outside – even for 10 minutes each day – can boost your mood, increase energy, and reduce stress, so make it a priority during your working day.
Take regular breaks throughout the day and at lunch, try walking around the block or to the local shop to pick up your lunch, or simply stand outside for a short while to get some fresh air.
Exercise and spending time in nature can both help boost feelings of happiness and wellbeing so at the weekends, head to your local park for a brisk walk or jog to help you de-stress at the end of a busy week.
As far in advance as possible, write a to-do list of everything you need to tackle before the Christmas break. Buy a weekly planner, or create your own, and allocate tasks to specific weeks or days to give you a better picture of what needs doing and when.
If you have any concerns that you might not meet your deadlines, talk to your line manager. By communicating openly with your boss, you might find that some tasks can be shared between team members or left until the new year, rather than running yourself into the ground to get everything finished.
Give time for reflection and appreciation
From impressive festive feasts to extravagant gifts, worrying about having the ‘perfect’ Christmas can cause a great deal of stress. As we are saturated with filtered images of picture-perfect Christmases on social media, we can feel increased pressure to compete. But modern life is often way too complex and messy to achieve this.
In reality, Christmas is only a few days of the year and we should look at it as an opportunity to be thankful rather than put ourselves under pressure. Navigating the central focus of the festive season away from material goods and towards spending time with loved ones will eliminate many pressures this time of year brings. Giving time for reflection and appreciation of things we already have will help let go of the stereotypical vision of Christmas which can be so hard to achieve.
Limit alcohol intake
For many of us, the month of December means more parties – and parties inevitably lead to drinking. And while there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the odd festive tipple, keeping alcohol consumption to a sensible level during the festive period will help reduce anxiety and promote a stable mood both in and out of the office.
Opt for low or no alcohol drinks, offer to be the designated driver or, if you’re really worried about a certain event, consider not going at all. We often put pressure on ourselves to go to every social event during the festive season but saying no might just be the little act of self-care that you need.
Make the most out of your time off
Not all of us have the benefit of an office shut-down over Christmas. Perhaps you work in hospitality or retail, or maybe you just didn’t get your annual leave request submitted in time. Whatever the reason, it can be difficult watching everyone around you enjoying the festivities while you head to work.
In this scenario, it’s important to make the most out of the time you do have off. Of course, you might have some commitments that you’re not able to get out of but on your days off, make sure you’re taking time out for yourself. Maybe it’s going for a run, maybe it’s watching Christmas films with a box of Quality Street or reading a good book. However you like to relax, it’s important to look after yourself and schedule some me-time over the festive period. You can make a stand and do what brings you joy this Christmas.
Talk to someone
If you think you are suffering with your mental health – talk out. Talking about how you feel is not something to be embarrassed or afraid of, it is a part of taking charge of your own mental health and wellbeing. Through open and honest conversation and the correct support, you can thrive at work at Christmas time.
About the author: Jill Mead is managing director at TalkOut – a voice for mental health in the workplace. Working hard to break the stigma around mental health and wellbeing in the workplace, TalkOut aims to disrupt the way mental health is viewed and encourage businesses to take the mental health of their employees just as seriously as their physical health.