Avoiding Burnout During the Holiday Season

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The holiday season can be more stressful than fun, especially for hosts, parents, introverts, and “Type A” personalities. Moreover, this holiday season comes on the heels of a global pandemic, and houses may feel smaller for many, at a time when depression is already known to spike. According to Psychology Today, Seasonal Affective Disorder (or winter blues) affects 10 million Americans. This in particular elevates the risk of burnout during the holidays. 

There’s no doubt that Christmas and all the winter holidays can be stressful, overwhelming, exhausting, and time-consuming but there’s hope! Here are some ways to help avoid burnout this holiday season and have fun.

Be Realistic

You can’t do everything and you shouldn’t try. To help combat being overwhelmed, make some changes to simplify your life. To start, send holiday ecards instead of physical cards to save yourself time, easily reconnect with loved ones, and invite some positivity into the season. If you find yourself searching for the perfect present for every relative, friend, and acquaintance you know, it might be a good idea to scale back on gift-giving as well. 

Set up a few simple, basic goals, and give yourself permission to be happy if that’s all you get to, even if you don’t finish every other little detail of preparation on your to-do list. 

Here are some suggestions for how to create and maintain these small goals: 

  • Break larger goals down into digestible tasks. Small goals that are achieved more frequently make you feel like you’ve accomplished something and keep you motivated.

  • Set a time limit and give yourself a break. No one wants to work on one task for several hours, and everyone needs to step away every now and then.

  • Small goals deserve small rewards. Keep motivated after you complete a task by treating yourself to a cup of coffee, a quick walk, or a 10-minute scroll through your favorite social media feed. 

Make a (Short) List

Trying to remember everything can make you feel confused and overwhelmed. It’s important to write down all of your to-dos, but keep your daily list short. Here are some more tips to create manageable to-do lists:

  • Keep your daily to-do list to three items. A small, manageable list will help keep you focused and centered. 

  • Put the biggest or most challenging task at the top of the list, so that you can take care of it at the beginning of your day. Save the easier tasks for the end of the day when you’re likely to be less motivated. 

  • If you feel uneasy about keeping your list to three items, take some time to create a master list of tasks that need to get done. This master list can be referenced to create your daily lists. 

Start Early

Whether you plan to celebrate quietly at home or host a big holiday party, you’ll be less stressed if you can spread out your tasks rather than waiting until the last minute. Here are some things that you can or should prepare early. 

  • If you plan to host any guests, send digital invitations well in advance (four-six weeks is recommended).

  • Purchase decorations and supplies at least a few weeks in advance before the holiday or party. Avoid the hassle of in-store shopping and buy supplies online. 

  • For parties, decorate a few days before the event. For a non-party celebration, decorate about a month in advance. 

  • Hosts should arrange for local catering, food delivery, vendors, and staffing at least two weeks before the party.

  • Gifts should be bought at least a few weeks before the holiday or party. If buying online, the sooner the better to avoid paying extra for rush shipping or having your gift arrive late because of an overwhelmed delivery system. A note to parents: if your kids want the most popular toy of the holiday season, be sure to grab it when you can before it goes out of stock!

Delegate Responsibilities

Although doing everything yourself will give you a sense of control and ensure that things are done exactly as you like, you are more likely to experience major burnout this way. Instead, ask for help and divide and conquer. Here are some tips for how to delegate responsibilities fairly and kindly during the holidays: 

  • Encourage family members or party guests to get involved by providing a list of potential roles they can take on with responsibilities included so they have a clear understanding of what each role entails.   

  • If you find that people aren’t volunteering to help, gently nudge them with a specific task that you think would be a good fit for them. Take into consideration their current workload before politely assigning them a task.

  • Get the kids involved. Let the little ones craft holiday decorations, help with baking cookies, or clean their rooms. 

  • Express your gratitude. Be sure to thank everyone for their help and contributions. A little appreciation during the holidays goes a long way. 

Shrug It Off

Don’t have too many preconceived notions about how the holidays should go, and if something goes wrong, do your best to shrug it off. Try and maintain perspective regarding the fact that you’re supposed to be having fun, and stressing over the little stuff is contradictory to that goal. 

Here are some tips on how to stay calm in case there’s a holiday hiccup:

  • Acknowledge the craziness of the holidays and commiserate with a friend. It’s likely that he or she is feeling the same way!

  • Step away from the situation and give yourself a timeout. Take a quick walk or go hide in a bathroom for a few minutes to practice some deep breathing exercises!

  • Take inventory of all the good things in your life and remind yourself of what the holidays are really all about.

  • Get back out there and have fun!

Maintain Boundaries

Whether it’s your immediate family or 50 guests, make sure that everyone present understands each others’ boundaries, and try to set a precedent by being respectful of the boundaries of others. Be protective of the space you need, and make sure to take the time you need and get the rest you need. 

Here is some advice about how to maintain healthy boundaries, even if your house is packed with family and friends.

  • Don’t overcommit: While it may be tempting to attend a Tuesday night Cookie Exchange party, do you really want to spend all day making four dozen cookies when you have so much more to do and haven’t had a moment's rest? Learn to say no. Your friends and family will understand that you’re stretched thin. 

  • Scale back: It’s okay if you decide to break from tradition and don’t host the annual holiday dinner or organize the massive Secret Santa gift exchange for extended family. Managing these types of events is a huge investment of your time and energy. Don’t feel guilty about scaling back, embrace it.

  • Say goodbye. If hosting, feel free to establish a hard end time for your party. To avoid guests lingering hours after a party was meant to end, set clear expectations in your initial communication with them. Still have guests that don’t want to leave?  You can note how late it is, politely invite them to help you clean up, or simply make an announcement that the party is over and thank everyone for coming. 

Don’t Sacrifice Your Daily Routine

This may seem counter-productive, but maintaining a daily routine can reduce stress. Furthermore, if you fall behind with fitness, hygiene, work, etc. it could cause additional stress. Routines reduce stress because they are predictable and help you maintain healthy habits during hectic times. Here are a few quick tips on how to maintain your routine during the holidays. 

  • Eat well: Maintain regular eating habits that include your normal meal times. Be sure to stock up on healthy foods to avoid nibbling on all those holiday sweets. Prep healthy foods ahead of time and freeze them to avoid take-out meals or snacking your way through dinner.

  • Get moving: The colder weather may deter some from going outside but it’s no reason to hibernate the entire holiday season. Bundle up for a quick, 15-minute walk a few times a day or find an online exercise video that you’ll enjoy. There are plenty of free online exercise classes that you can do on your own time and at your own pace. If you can, try to exercise first thing in the morning so that it doesn’t get pushed aside by other priorities and forgotten.

  • Prioritize sleep: Get your z’s by making sure everyone in your household stays on track with bedtimes. Having a night owl in your family will only encourage others to follow suit. To encourage healthy sleeping habits, everyone should shut down their digital devices an hour before bedtime. It’s also important not to overschedule yourself during the holidays and set a manageable pace to avoid midnight gift-wrapping and cookie-baking. 

Although the holidays can be busy, if you keep these tips in mind and keep a level head, you’ll be better able to have fun and enjoy your time with family and friends!

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