If you feel like you’ve had a constant weight on your back for the last 18-plus months, you’re not alone. The changing dynamic of what was once considered normal to the new normal still hasn’t felt quite, well, “normal”. And even though we’re heading into our first “back to normal” holiday season, you might be experiencing more burnout than ever.
Researchers have been investigating the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on global mental health. A 2020 systematic review found that in the general population of numerous countries saw relatively high rates of symptoms of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, psychological distress and stress. While there were certain risk factors associated with higher levels of stress, the bottom line is unfortunately true: The COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant levels of psychological distress in many.
While it may seem like we’re climbing an uphill battle, thankfully many mental health experts are committed to helping the public understand and work through the turmoil of the pandemic, especially as we enter yet another “new normal” holiday season.
As someone who’s personally felt guilt for feeling any remote depression or anxiety symptoms given that I have a roof over my head, food on my table and employment, it’s important to hear professionals speak on this and remind us too that we’re not alone.
According to behavioral health expert Dana Peters, MA, “As we enter the holidays, remember that all people have their own individual relationship with how they perceive and understand their time, energy and how to live a life reflective of what they value. While these things can be impacted by economic status, we could also argue that culturally we are not encouraged to be aware of our time, energy and how we want to take our power back to put ourselves and our mental health first. Every individual faces their own unique challenges around this, but we all have the ability and power within us to set up our lives in a way that works for us.”
Kori Ryan, Psy.D., Associate Professor of Behavioral Sciences at Fitchburg State University and co-host of an online mental health community, agrees with Peters sentiments and shares some very powerful insights. “A lot of people have decision fatigue surrounding the pandemic and are having a difficult time navigating risk, especially during the holidays. Given the wide range of emotions people are feeling, combining pandemic stress and decision fatigue with the stress of the holidays may be really challenging for a lot of families this year.”
Peters and Ryan both recommend keeping holiday plans as simple and as stress-free as possible, which is often easier said than done. Reflecting on what really matters to you this holiday season, and doing those things, will help set the stage for a less stressful holiday. Consider implementing even just one of these tips from Peters and Ryan to make your season a little less stressful this year.
Try these 5 tips to beat burnout during the holidays
1. Lean on your inner circle
Lean on friends who help you stay intentional about making the holiday season fit for you. Having friends who understand your boundaries can help you stay accountable to your goals. Schedule a weekly walk (or time to talk) where you can discuss your challenges and successes. Be very clear with yourself about what you are willing to take on this holiday season. This clarity comes from being in tune with how much time and energy you realistically have to give. Sometimes, what we envision and expect are very different from what we can actually offer to family and friends!
2. Create a list of things you value the most this season
List out all the things you value the most about the holidays. Is it spending time with certain people? Visiting a special place? Doing a certain activity? List what means the most to you and prioritize scheduling those activities first. If some time opens up that you want to fill, continue to go down your list and plug in whichever valued activity you have written out as your time opens up.
Allow yourself to say “no” and set limits around what you commit to. This may look like asking guests to contribute a meal potluck style instead of cooking an entire menu or having a smaller guest list. It could also be saying no to extra holiday parties and gatherings. Be true to yourself and keep things simple based around what you value on your list.
3. Give yourself grace
Give yourself grace and space to experience, and maybe even grieve another difficult holiday the way you need to. This might be another year where you’re missing family, spending the holiday alone or working. Acceptance is really important here, and you’ll find it might make the holiday more palatable.
The holidays are often really difficult, even without a global pandemic and burnout. Be gentle with yourself. We’re all a work in progress and continuing to live through a time of major stress and adjustment. The worst thing to do is be critical of yourself. Celebrate your small wins. When you catch yourself in negative self-talk, replace that with three positive thoughts about yourself.
4. Simplify as much as you can
Take what you think you can do, then cut that by a third. Don’t feel like you have to “make up” for the last few holidays, or go big to counter the pandemic. This is a really great time to focus on the most important parts of the holiday for you. See the people you feel comfortable seeing, do the activities you feel comfortable doing. Hold that boundary!
The great thing about simplifying the holidays is that it can actually work out better for your budget in the long run. By focusing on the most important elements of the holiday, you can cut down on spending or travel that might stretch or break your budget.
5. Incorporate rest
Incorporate rest and enjoyable activities and focus on experiences, rather than things. The holidays are a wonderful time to reconnect to your community, spend time with family and/or friends, and there are a lot of lower risk activities surrounding the holidays. Consider making a thermos of hot chocolate and then grab your family (or friends) and drive around looking at Christmas light displays. It’s a minimal cost activity with a memory making experience.
For more insight on how to manage stress and burnout this holiday season, consider these other pieces.