Why does work stress us out when we're not even working?

The kids are on break from school, the decorations are up, your shopping’s mostly done and you can’t wait to spend quality time with your family and friends. So if it’s the most wonderful time of the year, why are you still so stressed out?

According to a report published by the American Psychological Association (APA), 61 percent of people surveyed feel stressed during the holidays. Sixty-eight percent experience fatigue and 52 percent experience irritability as a result of the holiday season. What causes these feelings? For most people, it is a lack of time and money, the commercialism associated with the holidays and the pressure of exchanging gifts. And while people usually get some type of break from work during the holidays, work stress actually accounts for a significant portion of holiday stress. Thirty-four percent of people admit to being stressed out because their work obligations might take away from their holiday celebrations, and 31 percent are worried they won’t enjoy the holidays because they won’t have enough time off work.

I don’t know about you, but I’m stressed out just looking at all of these stress statistics. Let’s take a step back and look at how we can de-stress this season and leave the worry of work stress at the office for a few days.

According to the study, work is a huge source of stress during the holidays for people—even though they are supposed to be taking a break from it. Since the main concern is that work obligations might creep their way into your holiday, the first thing to do is pledge to actually leave your work at the office, unless for some reason you’re on call because your profession demands it.

A study led by Richard Balding of the University of Worcester discovered that “stress was directly linked to the number of times people checked their phones on average, and people with the most extreme levels of stress were troubled by ‘phantom’ vibrations when no message had been received.” We’re so stressed out by our constant need to be connected to work that we’re even stressed by messages we don’t even receive. Balding says organizations will end up suffering if their employees are stressed out by this constant connectedness, so it’s in their best interest to “encourage their employees to switch their phones off; cut the number of work emails sent out of hours, and reduce people’s temptation to check their devices.” A great example of this is Volkswagen, who last year began shutting out of the email server to its BlackBerry-using employees half an hour after the end of their shift to relieve the stress induced by receiving work emails outside of work hours.

While your company may not be as ahead of the curve as Volkswagen, you can still take your own steps to reduce your technology-related work stress during the holidays. Turn off your email notifications on your cell phone, set up an out-of-office automated email response and turn your laptop off. Obviously this might not be possible to do for the entire break if you are still having to work during some of it, but try to go a whole day without checking your email and responding to phone calls (say, Christmas Day and New Year’s perhaps). Chances are the person you’re so worried about responding to is also trying to enjoy his holiday.

Another way to keep your work worries from interfering with your holiday is to have someone hold you accountable for relaxing. This seems a little crazy, but some of us are actually so obsessed with “checking in” that we can’t fight the urge on our own. Kids are a great option for this, as they’ll gladly take on the task of hounding you for leaving playtime to sneak onto your laptop. However, if you don’t have kids around, let your spouse, roommate or a close friend in on it and have them alert you when they see you pouncing on your ringing device like one of Pavlov’s dogs.

Lastly, just keep in mind what’s most important during the holidays. If you’re meeting up with family you haven’t seen all year, spending quality time bonding with them is ultimately more important than trying to figure out next year’s budget with a coworker over email. Helping the kids decorate the tree is way more rewarding than checking the company Facebook page for updates. Take a break from it all for just a little while—don’t worry, for better or worse, it’ll be there when you get back. 

Categories: Editor’s Picks – Health & Beauty, Health Habits, Main – Health & Beauty