Coping with holiday triggers

Coping with holiday triggers

The holidays can feel like a high-stakes game of endurance at work as people take time off, wrap up key projects, and spend more time with their families. This time of year should be a time of joy, relaxation, and reconnection with loved ones but can also trigger immense stress, anxiety, trauma, and relapses. The stress of the season could prompt your team to overindulge or return to unhealthy coping skills from their pasts. 

Don’t believe the perfect images you see on holiday cards and social media—many people struggle this time of year. The idea of spending time with family can feel joyful yet exhausting, exciting yet challenging. Messages about the holidays fixate on joy and connection, ignoring the profound sadness and loneliness so many people experience at this challenging time of year. Holiday triggers are real, and they can have significant effects on mental health. 

Businesses must find ways to accommodate employees who may experience absenteeism, easy frustration, low productivity, and poor morale as a result of holiday-related stress. Managers must also understand their own thoughts and feelings about “the most wonderful time of year” and be mindful of how the holidays might make them less understanding of their team’s challenges. It all begins with understanding what holiday triggers are and how they affect people. 

Common Holiday Triggers 

Understanding holiday triggers is the first step to managing them. Powerful emotions provoke memories of past experiences, even seemingly unrelated ones. For example, the sadness you feel about a breakup may give rise to grief about the death of your father 10 years ago. You might use unhealthy coping mechanisms such as emotional eating, excess drinking, or passive-aggressive behavior. 

Here are some common holiday emotional triggers you and your team may experience:


The most magical time of year often means lots of social gatherings and traditions, both of which can certainly cause anxiety and stress. Managing your plans and expectations is key to dealing with overwhelm and perfectionism.


It’s okay not to be merry during the holidays. They don’t always make spirits bright. For your employees experiencing seasonal depression, it doesn’t disappear when the holidays roll around and it isn’t resolved with a present. 


The holidays create strong memories. People who have gone through difficult emotional challenges—the death of a loved one or a divorce—may relive those experiences year after year. Don’t be surprised if anniversaries manifest as unexplained sadness or more frequent absences. 


If you or one of your employees is mourning the loss of a friend or family member, the holiday season can serve as a reminder of that loved one’s absence, triggering feelings of sorrow, anger, and grief. Whether this is your first holiday season or even if it’s been years since the person passed, the holidays can often make you miss them more than usual.

Family Conflict

During the holidays, navigating family dynamics can be tricky because every family has their issues. Focusing on the joy and merriment of the season may be difficult if spending time with family is filled with tension, triggers childhood trauma, or is generally toxic. 


The holidays are often hardest for those who don't have family or a reliable support system. Whether you’re single, estranged from your family, or grieving a loss, you may feel particularly lonely when others seem to be included in tons of holiday gatherings and parties.

Relationship Difficulties 

The holidays often force us together which may include more time with violent and abusive partners and family members. Fights may increasingly be triggered by holiday traditions, different cultural expectations, and conflicting party plans. Even happy relationships may experience strain.

Disordered Eating

Holiday meals are bigger, richer, fattier, and more caloric than average. Food-filled holiday gatherings and the pressure to indulge can be particularly challenging if you or any of your team members live with or are recovering from eating disorders.

Substance Abuse

The holidays can cause an emotional rollercoaster. For those with difficulties regulating their feelings, the risk of substance abuse or to turn (back) to addictive behaviors is higher. Holiday festivities may lead to relapse.

Managing Holiday Triggers at Work 

When your team brings their triggers to work, it can undermine workplace culture, productivity, and more. Providing support in the following ways gives you and your team the power to remain productive and potentially decrease the stress brought on this time of year.

Offer compassion and understanding 

How would you treat someone who just lost a loved one? Treat everyone that way. You don’t know what your team is dealing with at home. Assume good intentions, and be willing to offer an empathetic ear. 

Scale back expectations when possible 

The holidays can be exhausting. It’s often a really bad time to schedule a major project or final push. If it’s possible to scale back expectations or delay deadlines, consider doing so. Overworked people are not productive or creative. 

Encourage time off and work-life balance 

People need to have full lives outside of work, so give them space to do just that. When people are out of the office, respect their time away and have no expectations that they will respond to emails or calls. Encourage people to take advantage of time off because it improves productivity, ultimately helping your business thrive. 

Talk about it 

Dealing with a difficult project? Was a meeting with a client especially challenging? Don’t hide from it—talk about it. People need to feel supported at work, especially when their jobs demand communication with unkind people or exhaust their coping skills. Talking about mental health more generally at work can also help you better support your team. 

Provide meaningful mental health support 

You can’t singlehandedly support struggling employees. You can’t cure depression. You can, however, provide your team with meaningful mental health support that gets results. Advocate for mental health benefits as part of a comprehensive benefits package. It will make you more competitive, and support you to support your team. 

The Best Way to Manage Employees Mental Health

No matter what triggers you experience, you are not alone, and you are not broken. Millions of people find that the holidays are a time of difficulty and even despair, not joy, no matter how convincingly they smile on social media. 

The holidays are a great reminder of how important it is to understand and discuss mental health. Ready to build a healthier workplace mental health culture and offer great benefits in the process? Schedule a Talkspace demo!

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