Despite Christmas being ‘the most wonderful time of year,’ the festive period isn’t always all sparkle and joy. One of the most hectic dates in the social calendar, we can be left feeling exhausted before the big day has even arrived. Here our members share their advice on how to spot the signs of festive burnout and how best to avoid it.
What is festive burnout?
“Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress,” says BACP accredited psychotherapist, Billie Dunlevy. “It occurs when we feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands.”
“At this time of year, it’s often referred to as ‘festive burnout’ as we can spend months planning for Christmas as well as holding anxiety and worry around financial, relational and family challenges we’re faced with,” adds senior BACP accredited psychotherapist Lina Mookerjee.
“Often people who are experiencing burnout have a lack of excitement for anything, increased irritability, decision paralysis, and lack of confidence. You may notice an increase in anxiety and emptiness too – and tendency to self-soothe with overeating, shopping, alcohol or sex.”
Why does it happen?
Billie Dunlevy says festive burnout can happen for several reasons.
“For some, it’s considered to be a busy season with lots of extra things to do – often on top of existing workloads such as jobs, caring responsibilities, and managing our own physical and mental health,” said Billie. “Christmas is also close to the end of the year, and people may already be tired and in need of a rest. In nature, everything slows down in the winter. But as humans, we do the opposite. We often speed up and over fill our schedules.”
“Working predominantly with young women with perfectionist tendencies, I see people pushing and pushing themselves so hard that when Christmas finally arrives, they often get sick and end up having to miss most of the day in bed.
Signs of festive burnout
“People experience very little satisfaction when close to burnout and so in the aftermath of the festive period, I see a lot more depression and listlessness. Client's approaching burnout also have more accidents, prangs in cars, forget important things, have falls, and find themselves locked out of their cars and homes. Unfortunately, many people still see these things as personal failings, and not as warning signs that they are exhausted and need to slow down.”
Common amongst parents and caregivers
Festive burnout is also particularly common amongst parents and care givers, as described by Lina Mookerjee:
“Those who have caring responsibilities for others – such as children, disabled or elderly relatives - also need to be extra vigilant at Christmas as this is a time where caregiver burnout is particularly prevalent. With all the additional pressures that Christmas brings, people who are responsible for caring for others can often become overlooked and discount, minimise and forget their own physical, emotional, and mental health needs. This can severely impact the way they feel and their ability to complete their ongoing caring responsibilities.”
Here are the experts’ tips to avoid festive burnout:
1. Check in with yourself regularly
“Notice how and what you are feeling physically and emotionally and respect your experience, says Lina Mookerjee. “Ask yourself if you’re feeling tired, irritable, or resentful? Are you sleeping? Are you feeling like what you’re buying/giving is good enough? These are signs that you could be putting too much pressure on yourself and heading for burnout.”
2. Recognise what is in your sphere of control
“We often act and think like we have more control over things than we do,” says Billie. “This adds to our mental burden as we try to manage things. The truth is we don’t have control over things like traffic or whether your husband’s sister really likes the gift you picked.
“Inflating our sense of responsibility can make us miserable and feel like nothing we do is good enough. For this reason, it is so important to recognise what is not ours to control. Examples of things that are within our sphere of control include: how much we move our body, what we eat, and whether we make time to rest.”
3. Slow down
“Rushing is not meant to be a permanent state and yet many people don’t know how to slow down,” says Billie. “Slowing down is one of the most effective ways to avoid burnout.”
“Give yourself respectful space and time to establish an internal equilibrium,” adds Lina. “Get plenty of exercise, fresh air, downtime, tech-free time, and ensure you make time for self-care.”
4. Set boundaries
“Say no more often - especially when your values or agreements are being challenged. And know when you need to delegate responsibility,” continues Lina.
“If we try and do everything, we increase the likelihood of burnout,” says Billie. “Some people like to prove to themselves just how much they can squeeze in! This isn’t sustainable, and will lead to falling down at some point.”
5. Drop comparison and your compulsion to prove
“Comparison is rife at Christmas time, particularly as social media forms such a big part of our lives,” says Billie. “Comparing to others can increase the idea that we need to work harder, do more. The compulsion to prove is sited as a key stage in burnout. When we become obsessed with this, we dismiss problems and the need to rest and prioritise.”
“Try agreeing a gift budget for gifts and stick to it,” says Lina. “Watch if you’re being compared to or bullied to have to spend more. Stand your ground and say no. Be the role model for your friends and family by valuing the simple and more important things in life.”
6. Ask yourself how you want to feel not what needs to be done
“This can be a really helpful reframe when making plans,” says Billie. “A key aspect in burnout is neglecting needs, for this reason it helps to check in with our needs more often. Asking how you want to feel can help flag situations that could potentially mean we are cutting off from our needs to please others. This is fine sometimes, but if it is a default, it is a recipe for burnout and resentment. Prioritising how you would like to feel can help you make more informed decisions.”
Lina adds: “Remember you always have a choice and there are options - to do something differently so you and others can realistically manage expectations.”
7. Make space and time to grieve
“Christmas is such a tender time of year when it comes to grief,” says Billie. “There are so few people who aren’t experiencing in some way the pain of grief and yet we don’t make time for it. We often tell ourselves we are too busy or that it’s not productive to dwell.
“Supressed emotions manifest in the body and increase our stress. Acknowledging who and what we may be missing is a way to offer ourselves compassion when we need it most. And remember, if you are struggling at Christmas time there are experienced counsellors and psychotherapists who can help with any feelings of grief, overwhelm, and burnout (visit our therapists directory).”
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