How CEOs Can Set the Table for Employees to Have a Mentally Healthy Holiday

The arrival of the holiday season brings both celebration and challenges. The holidays are a complicated time for mental health, but they’re also a welcome opportunity to recharge and build resilience. Smart leaders can guide their employees to maximize the restorative power of PTO.

Building resilience starts by recognizing that the holidays, with all their highs and lows, can be emotionally and financially taxing. Traditional large gatherings of family and friends present risks as COVID and flu cases rise. Older adults and younger adults are navigating loneliness at unprecedented levels. What’s more, gift giving obligations mean an increase in stressors to those already managing inflation.

Having an emotionally healthy holiday is particularly difficult for individuals struggling with mental health challenges. A National Alliance on Mental Illness study found that 64% of people living with a mental illness felt their conditions worsened around the holidays.

Holiday stress is compounded at the end of the year when vacation days go unused – a trend that has reached epic proportions. A 2019 U.S. Travel Association study found that people left a staggering 768 million vacation days on the table; more than half of workers don’t take all the PTO available to them.

There’s strong evidence to support taking this time off. Research shows that vacations are linked to better health outcomes, like lower rates of heart disease; reduced stress, depression, and anxiety; improved productivity; and overall higher life satisfaction.

Using PTO during the holidays can help people recover from work and personal stress, which is the key to building resilience. Positive resilience – meaning the ability to adapt to challenging experiences through mental and behavioral flexibility – requires cultivation and practice.

So how can leaders support their employees in building resilience on holiday PTO? Beyond modeling healthy behavior, themselves – including taking their PTO and putting emails and Zoom on holiday hold – leaders can promote employee wellbeing by practicing tactics. These could include:

· Finalize work for the year: Take inventory of tasks that you’ve been putting off and try to reduce the number of assignments you’ll carry with you into the new year.

· Resolve emotional unfinished business: The holidays should be a time of renewal and a fresh start. Identify and release emotions of anger and resentment and be generous in your forgiveness.

· Have a clear holiday agenda: The holidays are filled with perceived obligations. Don’t overthink gift giving, family visits, cooking or holiday card expectations. Identify exactly what’s expected of you and focus your planning on meeting those expectations.

· Connect with others: The holidays can accentuate feelings of loneliness and isolation. Take advantage of the ways to connect with loved ones, friends, and family. Consider setting time to catch up in-person, over phone/text/email, or with a holiday card.

· Practice mindfulness meditation: Remind yourself of the people, places, and things that make you happy. Express gratitude for all that you have and appreciation for all you have worked for.

· Being kind to yourself: Expect to make mistakes and falter on expectations. Don’t judge yourself too harshly for doing so. Instead, refocus on your personal plans for growth.

Equipping employers and employees alike with the tools to manage a stressful holiday season will help build emotional resilience and mental wellbeing across the workforce. It’s time to take some well-deserved time off – in a way that enables us all to enter the New Year stronger, happier, and more productive.