Christmas burnout: Here’s how to tackle festive anxiety if you’re feeling overwhelmed

Although the Christmas break is supposed to be a chance to recharge our batteries, the pressures of the festive season can often feel like an endurance test we’re destined to fail. Stylist investigates the rise of festive burnout, and how we can safeguard our health and wellbeing this holiday season.

The most wonderful time of the year is upon us, and by all rights, we should be well-settled into two weeks of tasty leftovers, Christmas TV, and singing our hearts out as George Michael’s power ballads play on repeat. It’s the season of goodwill, and technically, not even our perpetually delayed train services should dampen our spirits. 

Except… you feel flat. Empty. Hollow. Instead of the usual child-like thrill of excitement that comes with the festive season, you feel helplessly overwhelmed as you contemplate juggling the festive chores, crawling through bad traffic and navigating all the bust-ups that will inevitably go down when the extended family descends. Then there’s the endless Christmas parties, panic shopping for all the people you’ve forgotten, and the annual meet-up with your school friends that you’ve been planning a year in advance. You can’t cancel again…. can you? 

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If you’re feeling positively exhausted by Christmas before the holidays have hit full swing, then you might well be suffering from festive burnout. The name may sound oxymoronic, but there’s actually plenty of reason why the holiday season can bring on the cold sweats before we’ve even emerged out the other side of the season.

festive burnout
Festive burnout: one in three adults suffer from “holiday burnout”.

There’s the increased workload that inevitably piles up before you set your OOO. There’s the stress of endless social functions and major end-of-year meetings. There’s also the expectation to banish your inner Grinch and participate in festive engagements, included the obligatory office Christmas party.

Then there’s the actual Christmas season itself, which brings a whole new catalogue of stresses: buying a thoughtful present for every member of your nearest and dearest that won’t automatically be relegated to the charity shop pile, fighting off the crowds on your Christmas supermarket sweep, wrangling the tree into your living room – and that’s all without anticipating the slanging match with your most politically problematic Uncle over the Christmas turkey.

If reading that list of festive demands has you reaching for the nearest bottle of wine, then you’re not alone. A 2018 survey from Slumber Cloud found that one in three adults suffer from “holiday burnout”, with 36% of those surveyed claiming that that the affliction sets in before mid-December. A further 17% of respondents actually claimed that they felt burnt out before the festive month had even begun.

And if you’re feeling stressed, anxious or exhausted by the demands of the Christmas festivities, help is at hand. Below, chartered counselling psychologist Rachel Allan shares her advice for getting through the next few weeks with your sanity intact.

Festive burnout: the holiday season can be an overwhelming time for many.

Festive burnout: how to tackle Christmas if you’re feeling overwhelmed

1. Accept: Acknowledge that is it OK to feel anxious, stressed and overwhelmed. When the demands of our lives exceed what we can realistically achieve, it is natural to feel pressured and burnt-out. Be gentle with yourself.

2. Clarify Values: Consider what really matters most to you deep-down. Sometimes the pressures to have the ‘perfect’ Christmas can drive us to investing too much energy into things that do not matter that much at the end of the day. Think about what you really want your festive season to be about. If the way you are spending your time and energy currently does not reflect this, consider making changes.

3. Set boundaries: the Christmas season can increase our sense of obligation to others, particularly if we are prone to people pleasing or trying to live up to ‘ideals’ imposed by other people, such as family members. Review the boundaries you set in your relationships. These might be around time, spending, communication, or making plans. What is acceptable to you, and what is not? Clarify your own boundaries in advance so you can protect them if you need to.

4. Do what matters: What would bring you joy, vitality and purpose at Christmas time? What matters most to YOU? Be deliberate about making time for whatever that is. Don’t forget to consider putting self care on that list. Sometimes what matters most is peace, rest, downtime, and connection with those who give us energy. There is nothing wrong with that!

5. Take time for reflection: Does anxiety or stress at this time of year reflect a deeper feeling of discontent about your life? Take time to reflect, and consider where you would like to find yourself this time next year. Taking charge of our lives and empowering ourselves to make some positive changes is a great starting point for the year ahead!

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