If you’re crying in the grocery store, you’re doing it wrong
Holiday Burnout is a real thing.
It can sneak up on you, even though you’ve probably had a few signs along the way, until you find yourself breaking down in the dairy aisle because the butter you like is sold out and now your little house of holiday-perfection is tumbling down leaving you in a flood of tears.
You feel overwhelmed. Utterly ridiculous. And like a failure.
This feeling of trying to do too much to too high of standard is not immune to the holidays. It happens to anyone at any time of the year. According to an Indeed study comparing 2020 burnout responses with 2021, over half (52%) of survey respondents are experiencing burnout which was an increase from 43% in 2020. Although this study specifically looked at burnout for workers, it isn’t inconceivable to think that if we’re already feeling burnout at work then the holidays can only act as an added stressor.
What is burnout?
According to medicinenet.com, burnout is a term used to describe feelings of desperation, extreme stress, and the inability to continue with, or loss of interest in, scheduled activities. It is a feeling of overwhelm caused by the extra demands or expectations that either you or those around you place on yourself in preparation for the holiday season.
Dictionary.com defines burnout as “fatigue, frustration, or apathy resulting from prolonged stress, overwork, or intense activity.”
Is Burnout legit?
The concept of burnout was first published in a 1974 article by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger as “Staff Burnout” so the defined concept hasn’t been in circulation for more than a few generations, probably why its legitimacy or “realness” has been questioned. Certainly growing up, burnout was used as a general descriptor for being “pretty tired”; it wasn’t given a lot of attention and I definitely watched my mother and grandmothers knock themselves out during the holidays cooking, shopping, cleaning, and preparing for big Christmas gatherings all while caring for kids or holding down jobs – no doubt they were utterly exhausted from the whole production.
But in recent years (2019), burnout, or burn-out as written on the WHO website, has been recognized it as a legitimate diagnosis and is now classified as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Essentially meaning energy depletion and exhaustion, increase feelings of disinterest, negativity, cynicism or distance related to one’s job, and reduced productivity. However it is important to note this classification of burnout is not meant to be a medical condition, instead it is an ‘occupational syndrome’ and deals “specifically to phenomena in the occupational context.
The Signs and Symptoms
This HelpGuide article written by Authors: Melinda Smith, M.A., Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., and Lawrence Robinson has provided a robust breakdown of signs and symptoms into physical, emotional, and behavioural signs. They have also looked at the different causes stemming from work, lifestyle and personality. Finally, their comparison of stress and burnout is particularly interesting.
Links for Medical Information on Burnout
I’ll link to some helpful articles I’ve found in my research on burnout as they are approved by medical doctors, with very helpful information that only a certified doctor can offer.
The Mayo Clinic article on how to spot job burnout and what actions to take https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/burnout/art-20046642
Healthline Guide to Burnout https://www.healthline.com/health/tips-for-identifying-and-preventing-burnout
MedicineNet Holiday Stress Management Tips
How I Have Worked Through My Own Holiday Burnout
Despite the narrow application of burnout to apply only to a workplace setting, the feelings of any parent managing a home and family and all the activities, scheduling, cooking, cleaning, entertainment, child-care, maintenance, budgeting, planning, hosting, shopping, errands etc. (phew) could well find themselves sliding from “pretty tired” into burned out territory quite easily. Especially, with a busy holiday season where expectations influenced by social media, culture and media, and family come together to create unrealistic (and unattainable) standards of what the holidays should look like.
I have struggled with this overwhelming sense to get everything right and found the harder I tried the more I shut down and didn’t want to engage with Christmas anything. This was made worse after becoming a parent and feeling like I never had enough time, or energy to live up to my own “perfectionism” – Or as I sometimes referred to it as “my holiday spirit peaking too soon”.
Now that I’ve experienced holiday burnout, I have taken steps to keep the stress down so that it doesn’t spill into the burnout category. These are a collection of strategies or methods I have used to mitigate my own holiday burnout. Note: Always consult with a medical professional if you are unsure or feeling too overwhelmed.
- Aligning my holiday goals with my holiday values.
This has been the most impactful way for me to feel more connected to the season. When I focus on the areas that mean a lot to me then I feel more control of my schedule, attention, time and money because it’s being directed to what I value and not what I think I “should be” focusing on.
- Monitoring my treats
I love holiday baking, the sprinkles, rich icings, syrups, and eating candy canes like it’s my job, but all that added sugar ends up making me feel sluggish and then nothing is very fun because I’m always crashing from sugar. Consequently, I try not to nibble while baking, and hold back on eating too many sweets in a day.
- Drinking lots of water.
Another elixir for the soul. Feeling well hydrated does wonders for your soul. I purchased a ridiculously large water bottle (3.75L or 1 gallon) from Amazon a few years ago and it has made drinking the recommended daily water intake much much easier. Now I find it no problem to finish a jug (or more if it’s a workout day), and feel more alert because of it. The peeing will eventually level out!
- Planning ahead.
There is no shortage of chores or to-dos during the holiday season. To combat this never ending list of tasks, I broke them up into sections which has helped immensely. Not only does it feel like a lot less work, I’m not cleaning toilets while scrambling eggs (sorry for the visual). Instead, I know when it comes time to wrap gifts that I have tape and scissors and tags all in one place, or my spare bedroom is clean for guests, and I’m not leaving the house 55 times a day because I forgot something. These tasks are done weeks in advance, and other more timely tasks are scheduled in succession as Christmas nears. It’s worked wonders for my sanity and reigning in my perfectionism.
- But also don’t start too soon!
I have learned not to get too excited for Christmas in September, otherwise it’s tinsel overload come December and I’m just not feeling it anymore. So I pace myself and don’t try to do every.single.thing all at once.
- Staying in the moment.
It takes a concerted effort to achieve this, which is why I take time during the day to meditate, exercise, and turn off my phone so I can breathe in the chaos around me. Most days I feel like I’m failing at being present, so I’m trying to accept both of these feelings at once!
A person’s idea of perfection changes instantly as a result of illness or loss. Being grateful for all that I have, who I have in my life, my experiences, the ability to see, touch, hear, taste, smell, inhale, hug, run, stretch, sleep, kiss, cuddle is what keeps me grounded in the foundation of life. Are we breathing? Good, then let’s work from there.
- Resting and sleeping.
You can stay up nearly all night in order to get your to do list (I may well have done just that writing this post), but then you feel awful the next day, drink way too much caffeine, probably over eat in an attempt to stay awake, are in a total daze and the minimal amount of work you gained in those few hours in the dead of night has you paying for it with a lost day of productivity. Not to mention your cells, mind, and body need to repair itself while sleeping so you don’t get ill and miss the whole holidays, or worse spread it to everyone else, and then no one is having fun.
- Doing less and saying no more
When I figured out what was important to me, it allowed for a deeper connection to the season because I was able to get rid of periphery to-dos that only caused overwhelm and stress. By doing less I was able to enjoy the season more. It’s far from perfect and taking it day by day (or hour by hour) has helped.
Press the Pause Button
Burnout is a real condition that shouldn’t be taken lightly. It can sneak up on us due the number of stressors and demands we have in our lives. Take some time for yourself and figure out what it is you want to achieve during the holidays, more importantly make note of what you don’t want to experience and try to eliminate those extras from your season (within reason). The more I’ve paid attention to what brings me joy, the less exhausted I felt trying to keep up with what didn’t. I actually did more with less, what a novel idea. (Also still working on it).
Merry Happy Holidays – stay healthy