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Guest Post: How To Survive The Stress Of The Christmas Season

Every year in December when the first signs of Christmas arise, the minds of many people fill with excitement, warmth and anticipation.  Daydreams about festive activities, recipes to try, decorating, new family traditions, connecting with loved ones, & smiles.  Images of family opening gifts with appreciation around the tree after sitting at the table enjoying plates of delicious food.  It’s wonderful time of the year, right?  But then comes reality. Calendars fill up, the to-do lists grow, and minds become busy.  Before you know it, in comes the stress and burnout of the holiday season. 

Stress + Rest = Christmas Enjoyment

Surviving the holiday season is a marathon, not a sprint.  The best strategy for physical, psychological, and relational health is twofold:

  1. Decrease Stress
  2. Make Rest & Recovery a Priority

Don’t Take Road to Burnout.  

The holidays are often very important to us and our loved ones however, it is easy to get lost in the details and lose touch with our wellbeing.  Burnout around the holidays often peaks because people who are already burnout or were at the tipping point have even more things to do, and more expectations of themselves and others. 

Common Burnout Symptoms 

  • Withdrawing from friends, family, or colleagues (this can also include hyper focusing on electronics and social media)
  • Losing interest in things you enjoy
  • Sleep struggles
  • Appetite changes (overeating or undereating)
  • Feeling exhausted or low in energy
  • Hopelessness
  • Feeling emotional—sadness, irritability, overwhelmed or anxiety (i.e. feeling annoyed or irritated when someone asks you to go for coffee)
  • Feeling like you need a break (more than just wantinga break)
  • Difficulties controlling your worries
  • Feeling as though any new task puts you over the edge
  • Not wanting touch (if you typically enjoy this) or needing to be alone
  • Waking up not wanting to experience the day
  • Feeling resentful (toward children, your partner, or the world)
  • Feeling constant guilt

Note: Sometimes what feels or looks like holiday burnout may be a sign of a depression, anxiety or another medical condition.  Burnout that is not resolved can become clinical depression or an anxiety disorder, hence the importance in noticing burnout symptoms and taking action.  Consider seeing a professional such as your physician or a Registered Psychologist to discuss your symptoms and learn strategies.

How to Recover From Holiday Burnout

The first step of recovering from burnout involves recognizing that you are burnt out.  Once you recognize burnout, there are many things you can do:

  • Tell those around you how you are feeling and ask for help.
  • Talk it out with someone supportive (a friend, family psychologist, or another mom in a mom’s group)
  • Make rejuvenation and breaks a priory and be sure to schedule
  • Set boundaries
  • Take some time to process before saying “yes”
  • Be aware of your “burnout scale” (On a scale of 0-10 where 0 is no burnout at all and 10 is 100% burnout, where are you?  1-5 is typically good, 6-8 is caution zone, and 9+ is danger zone.  Try preventing reaching the danger zone as it takes much more work to decrease burnout once you are in the danger zone.)
  •  Schedule some time without expectations 1-2x per week (1-3 hours) to ensure you have some time to reflect, reprioritize, and rearrange.
  • Prioritize sleep
  • Fuel your body with water and healthy food
  • Re-evaluate your to-do lists and commitments
  • Simplify (ask others in your life to give you ideas)
  • Regularly schedule in things that rejuvenate you (i.e. getting together with a certain friend, time alone, reading, a bath, yoga).  Reflect on times where you were feeling well.  This will give you some ideals for of your personal formula.

Decide What Is Important.

You may appreciate the look of hand wrapped gifts in coordinated paper and bows, extensive homemade baking, or want to attend every Christmas event in the city, but make sure you consider your energy reserves.  This may change from year to year.  To have an authentic Christmas, define 3-5 feelings/values to focus on (i.e. giving back, showing loved ones you care, quality time, or creativity).  Aim for 80% or more of your holiday activities/tasks outside work/regular routines to align with these values.  Try to delegate, outsource, or eliminate things that do not align with your values during the Christmas season. 

Reflection Questions: How important on a scale of 0-10 is the task at hand to me or my loved ones? How much energy does the task cost me on a scale of 0-10?  Make sure the numbers are close.

Refuel and Pace Yourself.  

With the increased demands and commitments of the holiday season, often the first thing we remove is self-care.  More demands with less self-care are a recipe for burnout.  There are no magic strategies to increase your energy other than prioritizing time to rejuvenate after each item added to your routine.  Whether you are experiencing “good stress” (i.e. hosting a supper for your loved ones) or “bad stress” (i.e. a tight deadline for work completion), all stress is stress and can impact your body the same way.  People often get overwhelmed at Christmas because they do not account for the good stress.  Although the work involved for a holiday event is be more enjoyable and rewarding than planning an event for work, it is still work.  

Strategy: Before committing to events, activities, and offering to help over the holidays, schedule the time required for the entire event, including preparation, planning and implementation before committing to anything.  Include the time to get ready, shopping, planning, transportation, preparing, and running errands to give you a more realistic picture of your workload.  It all adds up. 

If you are feeling burnout during the holiday season, this may be a sign of a generalized pattern in your life that needs attention.  Regular prevention and self-awareness go a long way to ensure burnout does not take over your life.  Remember, the most important part of the holidays is the wellbeing of yourself and your family, not the glamorous image of Christmas.  A present, authentic, and well version of oneself is truly the best gift one can give.

This post was authored by Mallory Becker, a Registered Psychologist in Edmonton, Alberta. She specializes in anxiety, mood, relationships & maternal mental health. Mallory co-founded Pine Integrated Health Center, which provides multidisciplinary health services for women & families throughout the lifespan. You can find her @yeg_psychologist and @pine_health_yeg.

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