The holiday season is often filled with family and festivities, but for many, the summer period delivers more than just presents and celebration. Hannah Dowling finds out ways in which brokers can ensure the festive period is a joyful one.
Holiday festivities can often bring stress and pressure, particularly when it comes to personal finances, family tensions or a stressful work environment. For most working professionals, it also brings a list of things to achieve during the new year that is almost as long as Santa’s. Given this, being aware of your own (and others’) mental health is of critical importance at this time of year, according to Peter White, managing director of the Finance Brokers Association of Australia (FBAA).
Mr White has been a public advocate for the mental health of brokers, and has run broker events in partnership with national suicide-prevention initiative R U OK? Day, since 2016 and set up a charity in 2017 to support the mental health challenges and the needs of parents and carers of special needs children.
Speaking to The Adviser, Mr White notes that while this time of year can be focused on family, friends and food, it is important to be aware of those who might have lost someone this year, or may be estranged from their family. He suggests brokers try to go the extra mile to be present for people who may feel lonely during this season and to reach out to fellow brokers and take the time to check in on friends and colleagues.
“I think one of the things that everybody should be doing is making sure they stay in contact with their friends within the industry,” Mr White says.
“If they’re not doing anything, help them connect in to what you’re doing, whatever that may be, so they’re not on their own.
“Because when people are on their own, that’s when that dark spiral happens. And it gets very, very hard to get out of that. So, reach out to your mates, try and engage them, include them in things that you can.”
Aaron Milburn, director of sales and distribution for Australia and New Zealand at Pepper Money, agrees, telling The Adviser: “I’m hugely passionate about broker wellbeing. And the amount of stress this year has not only been on brokers but their families, too. So, over the Christmas period, I would implore brokers to recharge and spend time with families because this year has been unprecedented in the pressure that’s been placed on individuals, businesses and the industry as a whole. And I think that people have to take time out to recharge, spend time with their loved ones, and come back refreshed, because 2020 is going to be busier than ever.”
He added: “Mental health is a massive thing for our industry. And – given that this year has been significantly difficult for a number of people, and given the amount of stress that people have been under this year – they could be at risk when they slow down and have time to stop to reflect on that a bit more. So, I’d be really conscious of that.
“I’ll be saying to people to make sure that, if they are reflecting on the year over the Christmas period, please ensure that should they feel like things are getting on top of them, to reach out and get some help.”
’Tis the season to be jolly?
Dr Ros Knight, clinical psychologist and president of the Australian Psychological Society, also highlights that holiday festivities can affect individuals on a personal and professional front. The holiday season brings with it a lot of expectations, which can increase stress, she says.
“While for many, the celebrations and holidays associated with this time of year lead to feelings of happiness, contentment and excitement, those emotions can sometimes be accompanied by feelings of fatigue, stress and irritability, and for some, feelings of anxiety, loneliness and sadness,” Dr Knight says.
For those who battle with anxiety and/or depression, the holiday season can feel particularly overwhelming and stressful, with these feelings often exacerbated by the fact that individuals feel pressure to be happy and joyful during this time of year.
Further, according to Dr Knight, 40 per cent of adults experience social anxiety around the holiday season, often heightened by the pressures of the season and increase in social events.
“For those people who shy away from parties and crowds, this time of year can be particularly anxiety provoking,” Dr Knight tells The Adviser.
While some feel anxious in a flurry of social events, others may experience feelings of loneliness. Loneliness can be amplified at this time of year, and the season can be difficult for those who have lost, or are estranged from, loved ones.
Mr White therefore encourages brokers to reach out and connect with others. He believes this is particularly vital for brokers who are experiencing anxiety or other mental health problems.
“Try not to intentionally isolate yourself,” he says.
“Especially with anxiety, as well as depression, you might feel like you don’t want to connect, you don’t want to engage, even though the opportunities are there.
“But try and actually push yourself to go do something so that you’re not caught on your own and can get out of that dark spiral.”
Further, those who work in stressful work environments, like brokers, may feel additional pressure around the holidays to hit targets before the end of the year, according to Dr Knight.
As most businesses change office hours, or even shut down entirely over Christmas, tasks often overflow into the days before and after the shutdown period, which can increase stress and dull the festive mood.
“The pressure of completing work demands leading up to the break can result in workplace stress and burnout,” Dr Knight warns.
If any of these feelings sound familiar to you, just know that you are not alone, she says, and – despite the expectations around holidays and happiness – know that it’s OK to feel anything but.
Saying goodbye to the holiday blues
If the holiday season leaves you feeling stressed, anxious or lonely, there are ways to ease the pressure and enter 2020 feeling refreshed.
Firstly, be aware of how the silly season affects you. Whether you start the season feeling burnt out, or head back to work a little strapped for cash, the best way to avoid these negative outcomes is to be proactive.
“Stick to realistic limits on spending, socialising and family time in the lead-up to Christmas and the New Year,” Dr Knight suggests.
It’s important to be aware of your spending, and not to get in over your head among the craziness of the festive season, she adds. For example, credit card debt will affect you long into the new year, and is best avoided if you can.
As such, make sure to set realistic budget goals, and remember that presents don’t need to be big and expensive in order to be meaningful and appreciated. To avoid spending woes next year, consider setting aside a “Christmas fund” early in the year, and add a little more to it each month, so by the time the holidays come about, you’ve got all you need.
Lastly, while it may not be possible to control the stress and pressure felt at work, it’s important to prioritise balance and wellbeing in 2020. This might be in the form of discussing more flexible working arrangements with your boss, or finding a healthy external outlet that helps you target stress, such as yoga or massage (see The Adviser’s wellness feature from October 2019 for yoga you can do in the office).
Ringing in the new year
When it comes to goals for 2020, also remember to be realistic. New Year’s resolutions that are unachievable and stray far from your usual routine might leave you feeling down if you don’t achieve them. If you rarely hit the gym in 2019, trying to attend five days a week in 2020 might not be an achievable goal, and is likely to leave you disappointed.
Instead, perhaps aim to increase daily steps by leaving the car at home more often, or find a buddy to plan weekend hikes with. If you want to prioritise your physical and mental wellbeing in the year ahead, it’s all about finding a balance that works for you.
Try reflecting on the year gone past, and remember the positive experiences that made an impact on you. Then, think of ways in which you can incorporate those experiences into your life more often in 2020.
“If you want to improve your mental health in the new year, start before 2020 does,” Dr Knight suggests.
“Get back on track with exercising and eating well as soon as you can – don’t leave it until you get back to work in January. Make the time to look after yourself, have fun and spend time with people you love.”
Could it be more than seasonal sadness?
Dr Knight leaves a word of advice for anyone who is concerned that the “holiday blues” might roll on into the new year and beyond.
“There is a difference between the holiday blues, which are associated with the hype around end of year celebrations and tend to end once the holiday season is over, and more severe anxiety and depression, which is long-lasting and interferes with daily activities,” Dr Knight tells The Adviser.
“If after the holiday season you are still experiencing anxiety or depression that is interfering with your life at home or at work, it is important to consult a psychologist or your general practitioner.”
WHERE TO FIND HELP
Whether it be just for the season, or it’s on your list of New Year’s resolutions, if you’re looking for further assistance with mental health and wellbeing, contact your local doctor or reach out to:
Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636
Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14
[Related: How to ask R U OK?]
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Hannah Dowling is a journalist for The Adviser and Mortgage Business.
Prior to joining Momentum Media, Hannah worked as a content producer for a podcast catering to property investors. She also spent six years working in the real estate sector at a local agency.
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