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How to Avoid Holiday Burnout


11Nov 2011

“The holidays.”  Those two words are packed with memories, fleeting media images and mixed emotional reactions.  The Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Year’s holiday season has begun, and if you are like me, with them come a rapid succession of excitement, anticipation, anxiety, wonder, and a sense of tiredness (and I haven’t even done anything yet.)

We are planning the extended family Thanksgiving gathering – deciding who is hosting the meal, who will be able to come (and who is going to the “other side” of the family), what favorite recipes people will bring, and what activities will be planned (shopping, playing and watching football, playing board games).  We are just starting to think about Christmas (New Year’s is still in the distance.)

The result of this thinking and planning? A building sense of stress.  Stress from having to make a bunch of decisions.  The stress from changing daily life routines.  Stress from having to do more stuff, see more people than usual, and the thought of having to deal with people (family, primarily).

Stress is essentially the experience of having more demands in your life than the resources you have to meet those demands.  More stuff to do (make food, travel to relatives) with the same (or less) time = stress.  Experiencing more people and relationships than the emotional energy needed to carry on all those conversations = stress.

Stress over the short-term is generally okay; it maybe isn’t pleasant, but we can deal with it.  But stress over the long haul leads to burnout.  It is like the difference between spending more money than you earn for one week (survivable) versus spending more money than you earn repeatedly over months (this creates more serious problems).

Over the long holiday season, if we consistently, week after week, expend more than the resources we have (time, physical strength, emotional or relational energy) – then we wear ourselves out.  And then we get tired, irritable, “stressed”, physically ill, and possibly depressed.

This isn’t “rocket science”, and most of us have lived out this experience in prior years.  So, why do most of us wear ourselves out year after year?  Probably for various reasons:  we over-estimate our resources, the allure of all the fun things to do (we have to remember that “fun” takes energy), expectations we feel from others, . . .

So how do you avoid “burning out” during the holidays?  It’s simple, really.  Consistently, over time – each day and week – don’t try to do more than you have the resources to do.  Simple to say, but tough to do.

Here are some practical suggestions:

1. Get out your calendar for November, December and January.  Write in those activities that you know you will do. Now write in those activities you’d really like to do (be conservative).  In the spaces left, write in “rest”, “recoup” or “recover”.

2. Get in front of the mirror and practice saying, “You know, I’d really like to, but I can’t – I have a prior commitment” (which includes a commitment to rest).

3. Replace the thoughts that start with: “I really should …” with thoughts that start with: “I need to be careful and take care of myself ..”

4. Be thankful and enjoy the present.  Resist worrying.  Live in the moment.

If you follow these four steps, you’ll find that the holidays will be a lot more enjoyable, and you will be more fun to be around!

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