"Burnout" is a term often used to describe feelings of desperation, extreme stress, and the inability to continue with, or loss of interest in, scheduled activities. Sufferers of "holiday burnout" are often overwhelmed by the perceived extra demands and expectations associated with preparation for, and celebration of, the holiday season.
Many people who report that they feel burned out have simply taken on too many responsibilities, either because of pressure from others or because of their own expectations. An overloaded social schedule combined with the demands of entertaining, gift shopping, decorating, and other holiday traditions can evoke panic in even the most organized people. Furthermore, family and other interpersonal conflicts often surface at holiday time, due both to individual differences in expectations for the holiday season and increased overall stress levels.
If you feel you're prone to holiday burnout, you can formulate an effective holiday stress management strategy with these four keys to avoiding holiday burnout:
- Perspective: Try to keep the whole experience in its proper perspective by remembering that the holiday season represents only a very short portion of the year, which will soon be at its end. Holiday time does not necessarily need to be the most important or meaningful time of the year. Only you can decide what is most significant for you. Realize that many others feel the same way as you and may also be experiencing disillusion, stress, or anxiety.
- Preconceived ideas: Banish preconceived ideas about how the holiday season should be. This can be a difficult task for those steeped in tradition, but it can also be very liberating. Think about your holiday traditions and try to separate those you truly enjoy from those you feel you must do because you've always done so or you are expected by others to do so. Consider doing something different to celebrate this year. It's equally important to banish preconceived notions about how you should be feeling at this time.
- Planning: Always think before committing to any responsibility or social event. Don't make any snap decisions and give yourself time to reflect on any proposed commitment or responsibility (just say you have to check your calendar first). Decide what the right level of social activity is for you to feel happiest -- from a party every day to none at all -- and plan accordingly. Remember that what sounds fun (or manageable) two months in advance might be the stuff of headaches when combined with other pressures at holiday time. If you're planning as part of a couple or family unit, talk over your feelings in advance and agree to make commitments only after discussion with the others involved.
- Permission: Finally, give yourself permission -- to feel as you do and to make the choices you need. Do not judge or compare your feelings or actions with those of anyone else. You have the right to define for yourself the things that are important for you and the ways you plan to make the holidays enjoyable and meaningful for you.
Medically reviewed by John A. Daller, MD; American Board of Surgery with subspecialty certification in surgical critical care
Brigham Young University. Tips for a stress-free flight during the holidays.