The arrival of the holiday season brings both celebrations and challenges. The holidays are a complicated time for mental health, but they are 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 with recognizing that the holidays, with all their ups and downs, can be emotionally and financially taxing. Traditional large gatherings of family and friends pose risks as COVID and flu cases rise. Older adults and young adults are navigating loneliness at unprecedented levels. Additionally, gift obligations mean increased stressors for those already managing inflation.
Having an emotionally healthy vacation is especially difficult for people struggling with mental health issues. A study by the National Alliance on Mental Illness found that 64% of people living with mental illness experienced a worsening of their condition while on vacation.
Holiday stress is compounded at the end of the year when vacation days go unused – a trend that has reached epic proportions. A 2019 study by the US Travel Association found that people left 768 million vacation days on the table; more than half of workers do not take all the PTOs available to them.
There is strong evidence to support taking this time off. Research shows vacations are linked to better health outcomes, like lower rates of heart disease; reduction of stress, depression and anxiety; improved productivity; and higher overall life satisfaction.
Using PTO during vacations can help people recover from work and personal stress, which is key to building resilience. Positive resilience – that is, the ability to adapt to difficult experiences through mental and behavioral flexibility – takes culture and practice.
So how can leaders help their employees build resilience during paid time off? Beyond modeling healthy behavior, leaders themselves — including taking their PTO and putting emails and Zoom on hold — can promote employee wellbeing by practicing tactics . These could include:
· Finalize work for the year: Take inventory of the tasks you have postponed and try to reduce the number of assignments you take with you into the new year.
· Resolving Unfinished Emotional Business: Vacations should be a time of renewal and new beginnings. Identify and release the emotions of anger and resentment and be generous in your forgiveness.
· Have a clear vacation plan: Vacations are filled with perceived obligations. Don’t think too much about expectations for gifts, family visits, cooking, or greeting cards. Identify exactly what is expected of you and focus your planning on meeting those expectations.
· Connect with others: Vacations can heighten feelings of loneliness and isolation. Take advantage of ways to communicate with loved ones, friends and family. Consider setting up time to catch up in person, by phone/text/email, or with a greeting card.
· Practice mindfulness meditation: Remember the people, places and things that make you happy. Express gratitude for all you have and gratitude for all you have worked for.
· Be kind to yourself: Expect to make mistakes and fail on expectations. Don’t judge yourself too harshly for that. Instead, refocus on your personal plans for growth.
Giving employers and employees the tools to manage a stressful vacation period will help build the emotional resilience and mental well-being of the entire workforce. It’s time to take some much needed time off – in a way that allows us all to enter the new year stronger, happier and more productive.
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