How to Decrease Holiday Stress and Burnout

When you think about “the holidays” (whatever holidays you celebrate) what are some of the first things to come to mind? Those two words probably produce all kinds of memories and emotional reactions peppered with jolly media images. If you are like most people, you are feeling a mix of excitement, stress, and anxiety.

This is supposed to be a joyful and spiritual time of year filled with sharing, warmth, giving, and feelings of gratitude. Right? Well, for a lot of people, the idea of shopping, cooking, hosting, parties, traveling, and dragging kids around is stressful and overwhelming. If you are entering the holiday season already tired, over-worked, and over-scheduled, the holidays can feel like over-load; like a parade of awkward uncles, indigestion, obligation, and endless hours spent waiting in line. If you are more then stressed around this time of year, then you may even be experiencing burnout. The first thing you need to do is admit how you really feel about the holiday season and then find ways to turn this back into a special time of year filled with relaxation, slowing down your pace, reconnecting, and creating an experience that allows you to connect with the true spirit of this time of the year.

The Difference Between Stress and Burnout

Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest or motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place. Burnout reduces your productivity and sucks up all of your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. Eventually, you may feel like a shell of yourself with nothing more to give. Burnout may be the result of unrelenting stress, but it isn’t the same as too much stress.

Stress, in a nut shell, involves too much: too many pressures that demand too much of you physically and psychologically. Stressed people can still imagine that if they can just get everything under control, they’ll feel better. Burnout, on the other hand, is about not enough. Being burned out means feeling empty, devoid of motivation, and beyond caring. People experiencing burnout often don’t see any hope of positive change in their situations. While most of us are usually aware of being under a lot of stress, we don’t always notice burnout when it happens.

A Quick Note on Caregiver Burnout

Although caregiving can be a richly rewarding experience, the role comes with enormous responsibilities and pressures. Caregivers are already used to giving so much of themselves all of the time, but during the holidays they feel the pressure to give even more. Having high stress levels on a regular basis can turn into burnout really quickly.

Amy Goyer, an author and expert in aging and families, explains it like this:

"The prolonged stress builds up, we are robbed of energy, and sometimes we reach a point of total emotional, mental and physical exhaustion. We may lose motivation completely or feel we just don't care about our loved ones, our other relationships or our work. We may feel that we've lost ourselves in the vastness of caregiving and that nothing we can do will make a difference. If you feel like this most of the time, you may have reached burnout."

If you are experiencing caregiver burnout, you may need to reach out for some extra support from a qualified professional. The following tips that are related to the holidays can also help lessen some of the stress associated with being a caregiver during the holidays.

Five Tips to Help You Avoid Holiday Burnout

  • Learn to Say “No”

You don't have to agree to attend every event you are invited to and then turn around and host a bunch of events yourself. Find a polite way to let people know in advance that you prefer to stay home, rather than traveling across the country this year, if that is what you are feeling. Don't feel obligated to buy a gift for everyone. Come up with some other creative ways to get in the spirit of giving without overburdening yourself. For example, make a donation to a charity in lieu of buying gifts. Do whatever you like. Just remember to say yes when you want to and no when you want to. If people don't get it, well, their feelings are their own responsibility. Anyway, as I suspect you keep saying under your breath, the holidays are not really about things and parties.

  • Create Your Own Traditions

Make this time of the year (or any time of the year you celebrate your particular holiday) about tradition, sharing, and celebrating what is meaningful to you. Do things that are in line with your own beliefs and priorities. If you have a spouse and children, this is the perfect opportunity to demonstrate that your family is capable of creating their own traditions and expression of the holiday spirit.

  • Prioritize

Know what you want to invest your time and effort into this holiday season. Make a list in order of importance of the things that are most important to you during the holidays and then just do the things that matter to you the most. Not crafty? Don't spend hours on DIY projects. Not into cooking? Order catering or go pot luck style. Whatever you do, just don't do turkey à la National Lampoons Christmas Vacation.

  • Avoid People That Ruin The Holidays

One of the biggest sources of stress during the holidays can be other people! If there are people who consistently ruin the holidays, don’t spend time with them. Of course this course of action may create friction with other people who will not agree with your choice, but if spending time with certain family members, friends, neighbors or coworkers literally ruins the holiday, find a way to get out of it.

  • Delegate aka Asking For Help

Trying to do everything yourself or in only your particular way will put you on the fast track to burnout. Ask friends and family to pick things up for you when you are too busy to go out and get help with chores and cooking. Let each person in your home know how they can help and then, here's the hard part, let them help.

Although stress over the short-term isn’t pleasant, it's generally okay and we can deal with it. However, stress over the long haul leads to burnout. During the holidays, try to remember to not do more than you have the resources for.

When you’ve reached the stage of burnout, adjusting your attitude or looking after your health isn’t going to solve the problem. You need to force yourself to slow down or take a break. Cut back whatever commitments and activities you can. Give yourself time to rest, reflect, and heal. When you’re burned out, the natural tendency is to protect what little energy you have left by isolating yourself, but your trusted friends and family members are more important than ever during difficult times. Turn to your loved ones for support.

Burnout is an undeniable sign that something important in your life is not working. Take time to think about your hopes, priories, and dreams. Are you neglecting something that is truly important to you? Burnout can be an opportunity to rediscover what really makes you happy and to change course accordingly.

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