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  1. Blog
  2. Mental Health
  3. October 9, 2023

How to Be More Mindful in the Workplace During the Holidays

What to watch for and how to take a step back

Work team celebrating together
Photo courtesy of Domino

The holiday season is upon us, which means an influx of festive movies, marketing, decor, and events—all to make us come together and be merry… right? Maybe not. 

While the season can be fun for many, it can also be stressful and full of difficult emotions for others.

According to a ValuePenguin survey, 55 percent of Americans feel sad or lonely during the holidays—and for LGBTQ+ Americans, that rate increases to 76 percent. So many of us are navigating seasonal depression, difficult family dynamics, grief, mental health conditions, sick children, and societal pressures to cook, spend money, celebrate, and make this the “happiest time of the year.” It can be a lot. 

This is especially true in the workplace, as you receive invites to holiday parties, happy hours, gift exchanges—and are repeatedly asked what your plans are, how you’re celebrating, where you’re traveling to, or if your family’s visiting. You may not even celebrate the holidays, making this time all the more challenging to navigate. 

While you can’t change the culture of a workplace overnight, you can work on being more intentional, inclusive, and mindful during this time—whether to help others through the holiday season or to help yourself. Here’s how.

Supporting others: 9 ways to practice mindfulness with fellow employees

We all have different backgrounds, identities, and experiences, and we all celebrate or recognize the holidays in different ways. Some of us may celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Soyal, Winter Solstice, Boxing Day, or another holiday, while others don’t celebrate at all. It’s up to companies to acknowledge and accept that each individual employee has a preference and deserves to celebrate (or not), as they so choose.

“Managers and leaders who are well-intentioned and think mindfully about the experience they intend on creating for their employees are already on the right track,” says Jessica January Behr, founder and director of Behr Psychology. “Rather than treating inclusivity as an exercise in self-censorship, managers and leaders can take this as an opportunity to get to know their staff on a personal level.”

Send out an anonymous survey that includes questions on personal preferences. Remind employees that they are not obligated to participate in work-sponsored events. Ask open-ended questions to start conversations about better ways to approach the holiday season. 

While it can feel safer to sit back in silence or censor oneself for fear of offending someone during the holidays, January Behr says it’s more important for leaders to “show humility” by asking employees with different backgrounds for more information on what they really want and need. This means that while leaders and managers may not always get things right in their shift toward a more inclusive and mindful holiday season, they’ll be committed to understanding, appreciating, and valuing the different cultures and experiences of their employees.

Amanda Darnley, owner of Chrysocolla Counseling, PLLC, adds that while “large-scale, systemic changes are needed in order to truly support employees’ mental health, such as paying a livable wage, offering generous benefits packages, and encouraging a healthy work-life balance,” during the holidays, “a little empathy goes a long way.”

If you’re a manager or someone in a leadership position, here’s what you can do to be more supportive of your team during this time:

  • Pay attention to changes in mood or behavior, understanding that employees may be experiencing heightened emotions or feelings during this time, such as grief, loneliness, or anxiety. 

  • Use ubiquitous language when talking about holidays, doing your best to use discretion when discussing sensitive subjects. 

  • Acknowledge the fact that not everyone celebrates (or wishes to participate in holiday-related activities), and that’s okay. 

  • Make all holiday-focused events and activities optional. 

  • Remind employees to take time off to celebrate their own designated holidays, even if they’re not recognized by the company, understanding they also get to take off company holidays. 

  • Be respectful of cultural differences and avoid making assumptions. If you’re unsure about something, simply ask, but do so in a private manner.

  • Frame holidays and celebrations as community events. Rather than limiting these experiences to traditional or denomination-specific celebrations, treat them as opportunities for community engagement, says January Behr. If using decorations, make sure they’re not specific to any particular holiday. 

  • Recognize dietary restrictions and ensure a wide range of food and beverage options (including non-alcoholic drinks) are available at company-wide events, being mindful that some people may be triggered by conversations centering on food and alcohol.

  • Encourage self-care during this time, such as taking mid-day breaks, opting out of meetings, or utilizing company-wide benefits. 

“Managers can foster a supportive environment by encouraging open communication, offering flexible schedules, conducting regular check-ins, promoting mental health resources, arranging educational and social workshops, and leading by example,” says Angela Webb, a licensed clinical psychologist at McIntyre Psychological Services

Supporting yourself: Coping strategies for overcoming stress and loneliness 

“It’s okay not to feel joyful or excited this time of year. You’re certainly not alone in that,” Darnley says. “Know your limits and don’t be afraid to set boundaries. Don’t overextend yourself financially, emotionally, or physically.”

This can be easier said than done when you’re trying to balance work obligations, parenting responsibilities, family expectations, and holiday-related stressors, but your health and wellbeing are paramount. Rather than feigning enthusiasm, attending events you’re dreading, or engaging in conversations that make you feel uncomfortable, take a different approach to the holiday season. 

“Self-awareness is key,” Webb says. “Try to pinpoint the source of your holiday dread. Is it related to the social aspect, a long list of tasks, the loss of a loved one, feelings of insecurity, societal expectations, or family conflict?” 

The more honest you can be with yourself at the beginning of the season, the easier it will be to navigate challenging situations, set (and enforce) boundaries, implement coping strategies, build resilience, and maintain positive mental health and wellbeing. Take the time to consider your expectations, what upsets you, what you need to avoid, what makes you feel at ease, what activities or people bring you comfort or joy, and how you plan to get through the next few months more easily.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to self-care, but here are some ways you can best care for yourself during the holidays:

  • Maintain a normal routine. Darnley suggests eating healthy food, maintaining your regular sleep schedule, aiming for at least seven hours, and carving out time for exercise. Of course, this shouldn’t stop you from eating holiday cookies or adjusting your routine for special occasions, if this is something that brings you joy. 

  • Communicate your concerns to leadership. If you feel comfortable with your manager or HR representative, January Behr says, let them know about challenges you’ll be encountering during the holiday season. You may be dealing with toxic family members, coping with grief or loss, experiencing loneliness, or choosing to avoid conversations or events that center around alcohol. Suggest ways that they can best support you.

  • Look into therapy options. “Having an established therapeutic relationship as you enter a stressful season can really help,” Darnley says, but it’s best to start your search before the holidays get underway, as many mental health professionals take time off and it can take a while to find the right provider.

  • Make self-care a priority. What works for you might not work for someone else. Webb suggests focusing on hobbies, taking time to relax, and staying active. You might also try meditation, connecting with friends, volunteering, or journaling. 

  • Take time off for vacation or mental health. Set an out-of-office on your email, disconnect from chats, and remove notifications from your phone so that you’re able to really disconnect from the workplace and actively engage in self-care.

“While holidays are often thought of as joyous events, many people struggle during these times, even if it appears as if everyone around you is happy and celebratory,” says January Behr. “Create safety and coping plans ahead of time so you’re prepared for challenging periods if and when they come.”

There’s a lot that you can’t control, such as how much money your mother-in-law spends on gifts, what songs turn up on the radio, or what colleagues say about your traditions, but you can take care of yourself by setting boundaries, letting go of unrealistic expectations, staying focused on the present moment, and acknowledging your own personal needs.

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