Tips to Deal with Holiday Stress

It’s the day after Halloween and you know what that means … Christmas decorations are already out at the department stores. (Even my five-year-old noticed and commented that it’s “not even Halloween yet and there’s Christmas stuff over there!”)

But Halloween kicks off the unofficial “holiday season.” No doubt most of us already have Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations on the calendar, deciding when this family can gather with that family and whose in-laws are hosting Thanksgiving dinner.

Holiday stress

It can get stressful, which can lead to all sorts of health and mental well-being issues. And the feelings that come with grief over the loss of a loved one or broken relationships can become amplified this time of the year.

The Mayo Clinic has some helpful tips to work through the season and hopefully reclaim some holiday joy. A few: Help yourself by sticking to a budget, planning ahead and maintaining healthy habits (try to avoid taking a fork to the pie pan; it won’t make you feel better in the long term). And if the stress becomes overwhelming, seek professional help from your doctor or mental health provider.

Here are other tips:

  • Acknowledge your feelings. If someone close to you has recently died or you can’t be with loved ones, realize that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. It’s OK to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season.
  • Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events. They can offer support and companionship. Volunteering your time to help others also is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships.
  • Be realistic. The holidays don’t have to be perfect or just like last year. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones. For example, if your adult children can’t come to your house, find new ways to celebrate together, such as sharing pictures, emails or videos.
  • Set aside differences. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to all of your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. And be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they’re feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression, too.
  • Learn to say no. Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can’t participate in every project or activity. If it’s not possible to say no when your boss asks you to work overtime, try to remove something else from your agenda to make up for the lost time.
  • Take a breather. Make some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm.

Help Employees Manage Back-To-School Stress

School is back in session for many and this means your employees are readjusting their family routines. The school year brings hectic morning schedules, rushing to get children on the bus and busy nights helping with homework, carpooling to sports practice or attending extracurricular activities. Encourage your employees to establish new wellness routines during this transition period to keep the whole family happier and healthier.

Back to school time creates stress on parents and kids as they try to juggle work, school and home life. These stressors for your employees are often brought to the office with them. Offer programs to decrease stress and help employees connect with their families. Our Quest to Stress Less turnkey program, found on the members-only online resource center, can help employees manage the school year stress.

On a similar note, consider implementing sleep programming. Help your employees get a better night’s sleep and feel more rested, so they can be more productive during the workday.

Back to school time also means children may be bringing home pesky germs. Employers should promote good hygiene such as hand washing, keeping workstations clean and knowing when to stay home when sick.

At the same time, promote healthy nutrition. Distribute healthy lunch or dinner recipes, so busy parents can make meals on the fly that are delicious and nutritious. Concentrate on higher protein and fiber packed meals that will leave employees and their families energized and focused.

Finally, just as children are tempted to unwind in front of the TV for hours after school, your employees need to take screen-time breaks as well. Encourage frequent breaks throughout the day in which employees get up from their desks to take a short walk, stretch or eat a healthy snack.

If you need more ideas for how to foster healthy employee routines for back to school time, visit our online resource page and its 122 low-cost or no-cost ideas for worksite wellness. Contact the Wellness Helpline at (317) 264-2168 with questions.

‘Time is Money’ Leads to Stress

Do you think of time as money? That view may be damaging your health. Research by Jeffery Pfeffer and Dana R. Carney demonstrates that people who are keenly aware of the economic value of their time generally are more psychologically stressed.

The researchers were inspired by previous research on why lawyers often are unsatisfied with their careers. That study concluded that attorneys, whose time is accounted for in billable minutes, are hyperaware of the ticking clock that rules their work lives. Even when they’re not working, they’re thinking about how much income they’re forgoing during off hours, including time with friends and family.

To demonstrate the effects of time-money awareness, Pfeffer and Carney conducted an experiment in which half of the working subjects were asked to calculate their per-minute pay rate, while the other half were not. Even though both groups worked the same number of hours and got paid the same, the cortisol levels were almost 25% higher in the time-is-money group, whose members also seemed to find less pleasure during two breaks in the experiment.

Elevated cortisol is linked to many health problems, such as anxiety, depression, digestive problems, heart disease, headaches, sleep problems, decreased immunity, weight gain and cognitive impairment. “A rise of almost 25% is a serious health consequence,” says Pfeffer.

This phenomenon is particularly disturbing as more workers piece together incomes in the so-called “gig” economy. Rather than being on a full-time payroll, they’re more focused than ever on the economic value of time.

Work-Life Balance Lessons From ’90s Holiday Movies

I had an epiphany while watching “Jingle All the Way” recently.

It’s odd to have any kind of revelation when watching Arnold Schwarzenegger chase Sinbad throughout Minneapolis looking for holiday’s hottest toy, Turbo Man. But I realized that several early ’90s family movies revolve around the same issue: work-life balance.

“Jingle All the Way” (1996) saw Schwarzenegger’s character late to his son’s school events, missing out on important moments with his family, and tension with his wife. All these things led up to a Christmas Eve shopping excursion to make up for a year of being absent at home (and once again missing time with the family).

“The Santa Clause” (1994) had Tim Allen’s character (spoiler: he eventually turns into Santa Claus) working so much that he didn’t have time to play with his son, make any kind of Christmas dinner or even comfort the child about his parents’ recent divorce.

And in “Hook” (1991), Robin Williams’ grown up Peter Pan didn’t have time to get to his son’s baseball game and his constant cell phone usage was a major family disruption.

In these depictions, the fathers worked hard to provide for their families but ended up neglecting them because they couldn’t set boundaries and separate their work and home lives — usually with a harassing boss in the background demanding devotion.

I did a little digging on the origins of the “work-life balance” term and found a 2007 study from the Boston College Center for Work & Family. Interestingly, the study pins much of the realization of the need for flexibility in the workplace on a surge of working mothers, not the fathers (despite Hollywood’s depiction).

The study notes that as the workforce began to include more professional women in the 1970s and ’80s and – as they began to have children and families – there was a struggle to achieve both career and family aspirations. The actual term “work-life balance” first appeared in the mid-’80s.

Companies began to understand that being “family friendly” could be used in recruiting efforts. Employee assistance programs (EAP) and health and wellness programs made it into the workplace as employers realized burn-out and low productivity were problematic.

Another factor in the changing face of the workplace was advances in technology, which allow people to unchain from the office. Now, people are more likely to work at home in the evenings or on weekends. (Of course, that lends to its own set of balance problems, due to the ability to be constantly plugged-in.)

Here’s a piece of anecdotal evidence about employers providing a healthy balance: Each year we sort through the Best Places to Work in Indiana entries to highlight some of the things the best Hoosier companies provide (as voted by the employees themselves). “Healthy work-life balance” (zero or little overtime, paid vacation, etc.) is typically one of the first things each of these winning companies list.

How to Keep Holiday Stress Away

Screeech! That’s me putting on the breaks as we enter – fast and furiously – the holiday season. Sure, there are presents to buy, goodies to bake and get-togethers to attend. But if I don’t slow down, the “magic” in the air will be overshadowed by lengthy to-do lists and an unflattering transformation into Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge himself.

A recent article from The Huffington Post provides tips on surviving “holiday hype.” One suggestion cautions against comparing past holidays with the current one. It’s good advice.

Growing up, my family always spent Christmas Eve at my grandmother’s house. If I close my eyes, I can almost smell the rigatoni, roast and rolls she made for dinner. Waiting until 8 p.m. to open presents seemed like an eternity! I miss those days and will always cherish them. The good news is that the traditions I’ve started with my own family bring great joy and are just as treasured.

What’s your secret to beating the holiday blues?

Extra Hours Mean Work/Life Balance Suffers

This report from Workplace Options was written last fall, but remains true today as the economy slowly recovers. If your company has reduced staff, then your existing employees are likely being pushed beyond what they’re used to. Just something to keep in mind — and perhaps more socializing together or even added benefits and appreciation events/rewards might be in order to boost morale.

According to a recent survey by Workplace Options, a leading global provider of work-life programs and employee benefits, more than half of American workers (62 percent) say their employer is trying to do more with less as a result of the national economic situation – stretching resources, postponing hiring and trying to get more work out of each employee.

According to a recent survey by Workplace Options, 42 percent of workers are extending their workdays by coming in early or staying late in order to avoid distractions. But what happens to those who contribute to the constant interruptions? According to the survey, nearly one in four employees (22 percent) are aware of someone in their workplace who has been fired for wasting time in the office, disrupting other employees or partaking in other distractions.

“Worker intensification” is a phrase commonly used to refer to the increasing demands placed on workers – asking them to more with the same amount of time and resources. In most instances, worker intensification occurs with little to no reward. According to the Workplace Options survey, more than half of the respondents (55 percent) have taken on additional job responsibilities as a result of the recession, but 70 percent have done so with zero pay increase.

“In times of economic uncertainty a lot of the burden falls on workers. Employers are forced to make ends meet with fewer resources and turn to their staff for help,” said Dean Debnam, chief executive officer of Workplace Options. “It’s important for managers to recognize the size of their requests and the weight of added responsibilities for their employees.”

Sacrificing health, wellness and benefits

Additional responsibilities usually mean extra hours at the office and a struggle to maintain work-life balance. More than half of survey respondents (51 percent) say the increase in responsibilities has negatively affected their well-being and 37 percent said they wouldn’t be able to sustain their current workload in the long run.

According to the 2010 American Time Use Survey released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 35 percent of workers are no longer working for the weekends, they’re working on the weekends. Is this a continuing trend? Or is there light at the end of the tunnel?

Debnam says, “Regardless of the state of the economy, employers must recognize the impact of their resourcing decisions. If you aren’t able to hire more resources and you instead ask your current employees to take on that extra work, some productivity is bound to suffer.” 

When Stress Strikes, Be Prepared

Don’t let my positive attitude fool you; I am a world-class worrier.

Just because I view the glass as half full doesn’t mean I’m immune to stress – whether it’s financial, work related, physical or mental.

Fortunately, I’ve discovered throughout the years that laughter truly is the best medicine. It’s certainly helped me weather life’s storms. But, since I can’t walk around cackling like the Joker all day long (that may freak people out), I’ve found other ways to alleviate stress.

Curling up with a book, watching a movie (especially 1980s Molly Ringwald classics) and writing poetry always helps me relax. Another outlet is music (bring on the Beatles)!

Looking for more tips? The Wellness Council of Indiana helps employers across the state create and enhance wellness programs. Stress management is an important element.

In addition, the Mayo Clinic web site lists the top 10 stress relievers. Here is an excerpt:

  1. Get active
  2. Virtually any form of exercise and physical activity can act as a stress reliever. Even if you’re not an athlete or you’re out of shape, exercise is still a good stress reliever. Physical activity pumps up your feel-good endorphins and refocuses your mind on your body’s movements, improving your mood and helping the day’s irritations fade away.
  3. Meditate
  4. During meditation, you focus your attention and eliminate the stream of jumbled thoughts that may be crowding your mind and causing stress. Meditation instills a sense of calm, peace and balance that benefits both your emotional well-being and your overall health.
  5. Laugh

A good sense of humor can’t cure all ailments, but it can help you feel better, even if you have to force a fake laugh through your grumpiness. When you start to laugh, it lightens your mental load and actually causes positive physical changes in your body.

Why You Need to Take Time Off

As I write this, I’m about three days from taking a vacation spanning eight work days. After three days of driving and a stop at a casino on the way, I (plus my father and two others) will ultimately wind up in northern Ontario on a quest for walleye and northern pike. Aside from eating enough fried fish to make Adam Richman blush, I also hope to use the time on the lake to re-focus and ponder how I can be better at my job — and more importantly, my life. According to the blog The 12 Most, there are at least 12 reasons we should all make sure we take time off and smell the roses — or in my case, rotting fish carcasses. Here are a few reasons, but check out the entire post:

2. This is your brain on vacation
I’ve found it takes a few days to shut off the manic, ever-present and ever-busy chatter in my head. The “OMG I forgot to do xyz” or the “If I don’t find time to do xyz, my business will never be what I want it to be” drifts away after the 3rd day. I’ve found I focus on amazing things like hummingbirds, novels and hearing myself belly laugh in a way that’s been gone for a while.

3. The unbearable lightness of being unscheduled
I go out of my way to not have too much of a plan on vacation. The decadence of enjoying a second cup of coffee while still not having a clue what the day holds is something rare and sacred. My body literally lets go of the tension I carry around in my neck and shoulders the 51 other weeks of the year.

4. The realization life/work/committees go on without you
We all love to make ourselves a little too important. How can our businesses, our organizations, the PTA go on without us? Take a week away, and it becomes crystal clear. Not only CAN they, but they SHOULD. Take that, Ego.

5. Creative Inspiration when you least expect it
Gaze at the mountains, study the waves or take in the view from a hammock and you’ll be amazed at what comes to you.

6. Discovery, discovery, discovery
I like all types of of vacations – adventurous, new places, and relaxing with nothing to do. Whatever kind you take, you’re bound to discover something new. A small town in Michigan might bring you a new favorite beer discovery. A tour of new places in Europe might lead you to a new favorite artist. Whatever it is, never stop discovering. It’s good for your whole being. Vacation helps you do that.

Ranking Jobs … By Their Stress Level

According to a report, choose a career related to health care rather than the media if you want to reduce stress on the job. Remember, that’s their findings, not mine. Not sure how much to put into the analysis, but here are the rankings:

The criteria used by researchers include 11 different factors that invoke stress. Each factor was assigned a range of points, and a high score was given if it was a major part of the job, while fewer points were given if it wasn’t normally required.

The most stressful job was found to be commerical airline pilot, but four of the top 10 were media related.’s Highest Stress Professions:

Commercial Airline Pilot
Public Relations Executive
Corporate Executive, Senior
Advertising Account Executive
Emergency Medical Technician
Real Estate Agent

Audiologist, a practitioner who assesses and treats hearing disorders, is ranked as the nation’s least stressful profession, according to the new report. More than half of the 10 least stressful professions are in the health care field.’s Lowest Stress Professions:

Software Engineer
Computer Programmer
Dental Hygienist
Speech Pathologist
Occupational Therapist