As some Americans face financial stress, holiday joy may be more difficult to come by this year, according to the recently released 2022 Aflac Holiday Health Issues Survey. Over three-quarters (82%) of respondents say they will cut back on holiday gifts, travel expenses or take on credit card debt this holiday season because of financial concerns, with two-thirds doing so because of health care or related out-of-pocket costs.

“The study paints a picture of the sacrifice many households are making this holiday season, because it’s difficult to pay for necessities and health care costs,” said Diana Steinhoff, senior vice president, Aflac Benefits Solutions. “The holiday-focused data brings awareness to how financial stress can affect the physical and mental health of Americans during what should be the most wonderful time of the year.”

Stretching a buck is harder this year
According to the survey, almost half (44%) of American workers do not believe that their income has kept up with increases in everyday expenses, a sentiment most common among those earning less than $50,000 per year. More than two-thirds (70%) of respondents said they feel that they spent more money in 2022 on necessities than in 2021, including living expenses, mortgage/rent, out-of-pocket health care costs, health care premiums and transportation.

With so many Americans struggling to pay the bills, many said they’ll rein in holiday spending. A full 64% said they’ll cut back on holiday costs in at least one category, including hosting parties (35%), attending parties (33%), presents (33%), sending cards (26%) and work holiday events (23%). 

Many don’t recharge throughout the year, contributing to holiday stress
Even though many Americans want quality time with loved ones this season, nearly 2 in 3 (70%) admitted they’ll do at least some work during the holiday season. Checking work email, completing work assignments and taking on additional gig or contract work were most likely to overshadow quality time this season.

Almost two-thirds (64%) agreed that, even when they are sick, they “power through” rather than take a sick day. This is true regardless of working arrangement (66% on-site employees; 59% remote employees; 61% hybrid employees), which means that on-site employees may be inadvertently putting their colleagues at risk by coming into work sick.

More employees indicated they took less time off this year overall (31%) than those who said they took more time off (26%). And parents are far more likely than non-parents to have said they took more time off this year (35% parents, 21% non-parents). Among those taking more time off this year, doctor appointments/wellness visits are the main reason (34%), along with mental health days (32%) and planned vacation days (32%).

“It’s more important than ever to be smart about taking care of our physical and mental health,” explained Steinhoff. “Health concerns and costs compound when we don’t take care of ourselves, and that is why Aflac is enhancing products to include mental health coverage and incentives for making wellness visits a priority.”

Americans need more than a mental health day this holiday season
According to the study, more than half (55%) of all employees admitted they feel more anxious during the holiday season, and over 2 in 5 (43%) said they feel more depressed during the holidays. Anxiety is particularly high among Gen Z, and women are disproportionately impacted compared to men. The survey uncovered a variety of coping strategies that employers can use to help offer time and resources to address the holiday blues.

  • Time and allowances for exercise, yoga and self-care: Half (51%) of American workers use regular exercise to protect their mental health and well-being during the holidays. 
  • Holiday health hazard awareness: Almost half (46%) of American workers have suffered an injury from a holiday-related accident or mishap. Most common is slipping and falling on ice (25%), but over 1 in 10 have also hurt themselves tripping over new toys in the household (17%) or lifting heavy gifts (14%). These physical ailments can add to the holiday stress, making it important to take precautions against holiday hazards and seek medical care when necessary.
  • Mental health and substance abuse resources: Over a third (37%) admitted that they turn to alcohol or other intoxicants to get through the holiday season, and slightly more turn to retail therapy (42%). But 36% turn to counseling to protect themselves over the holiday season.

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