December marks the start of advent. For many this a period of joy. However, it also tends to be an incredibly busy, stressful, and worrying time with financial concerns, time pressures, and workload issues proving problematic.
So how can employers best support their workforce in the run up to Christmas and over the Christmas break?
Dr Julia Lyons, Senior Counselling Psychologist at Onebright looks at when stress and worry become a problem and how this might impact individuals in the workplace.
When does stress and worry become a problem?
We all have our own worries and moments of stress-induced pressure. It is a natural phenomenon. If we can’t actively work past the worry and it stops us from living the life we want to live, this is where worrying can impact mental health and disrupt someone’s quality of life. When we find ourselves in a state of ongoing uncertainty and things continue to be unpredictable, this can lead to unique worries and concerns which can be specific to an individual or to a group of individuals.
Worrying often moves us past the point of active problem-solving. It becomes an obstacle to effective functioning. It can be helpful to understand and be able to distinguish between the two different kinds of worry: real and hypothetical.
Real worries are about real problems that are affecting you right now. For example: “my mother is unwell, and I need to care for her.” Hypothetical worries don’t currently exist but might happen in the future, and they’re often the ones where we go to the worst-case scenario. For example: “what will I do if I lose my job and end up homeless?”
Which signs can you look for that might indicate someone is struggling with worry?
The symptoms of stress can affect all parts of someone’s life, including their emotions, behaviours, thinking ability, and physical health. No part of the body is immune. We look at signs in the workplace that might indicate an employee is experiencing higher levels of stress:
Absence: taking an unusual amount of time off work
Reduced tolerance: overreacting to situations in the workplace
Pessimism: focusing too much on the negative aspects of the job
Performance issues: struggling to concentrate or complete tasks either day to day or by set deadlines
Isolation: reduced social skills or less interpersonal interactions with other colleagues, concerns about what others think
Low confidence: turning down opportunities for development or promotion or plateauing in their career
What can you do about stress and worry?
There are several things you or your colleagues can do to help with stress and worry over the coming weeks, these include:
Maintain balance: Wellbeing comes from a life with a balance of activities that you value and that give you feelings of pleasure, achievement, and closeness.
Identify your worry: Is it a ‘real’ worry or a hypothetical worry? If it’s the latter, it is important to remind yourself that your mind is not focusing on a problem you can solve now and find ways to let the worry go and focus on something else.
Postpone your worry: Worry is insistent, and it can make you feel as if you must engage with it right now. Instead, deliberately set aside time to let yourself worry and don’t worry for the rest of the day.
Apply self-compassion: Worry can come from a place of concern. We worry about others when we care about them. Responding to our own or others’ worries with kindness and compassion can make a huge difference.
Practice mindfulness: Learning and practising mindfulness can help us to notice but not engage with worrying thoughts. It helps us to let go and break free of worries by staying in the present moment, stopping them from taking hold.
Workload balance: At this time of year all tasks seem to be urgent, and we often find ourselves with a very long list of things to complete by the end of the year. Take a step back and go through all the actions and tasks that you have. Think carefully about whether they really need to be completed before Christmas or if they can wait until January.
Dr Julia Lyons, Senior Counselling Psychologist at Onebright