How to Handle Holiday Burnout

selective focus photography of light bulb

It’s the holiday season. We love to talk about holiday fun, and we also love to talk about holiday burnout.

For many people, the holidays leave us feeling overwhelmed or exhausted rather than refreshed.

“Burnout” is a very broad term. Why do you feel burned out? Because if you identify the problem, you’re much better able to address it.

For instance, if you’re feeling burned out because you’ve been staying up late every night, drinking and eating unhealthfully, and missing your usual work-outs and meditation, you need one kind of solution.

If you’re feeling burned out because you want to make the holidays perfect for your whole family, but you have a fifteen-page to-do list and no one is helping you, you need a different kind of solution.

First, identify the source—or sources—of your burnout. Then consider these solutions:

Solutions for holiday burnout

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by everyday stress…

The holidays and the year’s end is a busy season with a lot of expectations. If you’re feeling stress due to travel, working overtime, or taking stock of your personal goals, these reminders can help you avoid getting too exhausted:

  • Treat yourself like a toddler—Don’t let yourself get too tired, too cold, too hot, too hungry, or too overwhelmed
  • Find some fun—if this holiday is supposed to be fun, make sure that you are, indeed, having some fun (and your idea of fun may be very different from other people’s ideas of fun)
  • Put yourself in the mood—get in touch with the fun part of the holidays by playing holiday music, watching a holiday movie, eating a nostalgic food from your childhood, or doing an activity like cookie-baking—in my family, we decorate graham-cracker houses (like gingerbread houses, but much easier to make)
  • Be grateful—feeling grateful helps drive out feelings of irritation, anger, and resentment. Look for reasons to appreciate what you have, and to thank the people who worked to create it.
  • Acknowledge what you’ve done—Give yourself a gold star, make a ta-da list

If you’re navigating tricky social dynamics…

The holiday season also comes with a disruption to our usual social calendar. We might struggle to deal with difficult relatives, experience feelings of loss due to death or change, or feel the pressure of expectations around entertaining and socializing. Obligers especially tend to feel burdened by everything expected of them (don’t know if you’re an Obliger, Questioner, Rebel, or Upholder? Take this quiz to find out). When dealing with people, traditions, and social expectations, it can be helpful to:

  • Find some time alone if you need it—when we’re staying with my family, my husband always volunteers to run to the grocery store. Once he went three times in one day. He loves any excuse to go to the grocery store (odd, right?), and this task gives him a way to be helpful, do something he enjoys, and get much-needed time alone
  • Do good—do good, feel good. Volunteer, help a neighbor, pitch in, donate money to a cause you believe in, donate blood, sign up to be an organ donor, reach out to someone who may be feeling lonely or sad during this time
  • Avoid strife—if you know you’re going to argue needlessly with someone, try not to engage
  • Be understanding—if traditions are very important to others, try to stay patient and play your part
  • Ask for help or delegate—don’t wait for people to volunteer or assume you have to do everything yourself!
  • Avoid drinking too much—and if you notice someone else trying to curb their own drinking, don’t make a fuss or urge them to partake

If you’re struggling to keep everything in order…

Between endless to-do lists for decorating, cooking, cleaning, and planning, as well as the stress around gift-giving, it can be a challenge to stay organized and get it all done.

  • If you need help with gift-giving, take this quiz to help get some good ideas
  • See the funny side of a screw-up. If something does go wrong, remember my Secret of Adulthood: “The things that go wrong often make the best memories”
  • Set a budget and stick to it
  • Be realistic—If you want everything to be perfect, try to lighten up; don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good
  • Make concrete plans—I find that things that can be done at any time are often done at no time (shopping, wrapping, getting holidays cards ready, visiting the annual holiday light display, etc.), so to ensure that key tasks get done, consider putting them on the calendar
  • Allow traditions to evolve—I remember how hard it was for me to give up my family tradition of having a live Christmas tree. But it just didn’t work: we live in a New York City apartment, and we spent Christmas week with my parents in Kansas City, anyway
  • Lower the bar—find short-cuts, change your expectations, look for ways to make things easier. In my extended family, we changed our gift-giving tradition so now we buy fewer, less expensive presents. We still have the fun of buying and opening gifts, but it’s less stressful
  • Make entertaining easier—find lots of entertaining hacks here
  • Clean as you go—for most people, outer order contributes to inner calm, especially at busy times, so put your dishes in the dishwasher, hang up your coat, make your bed, take out the trash, etc.

What strategies have you used to fight holiday burnout?



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