Sidestepping holiday burnout

Holidays are all about the twinkling lights, the pretty snowflakes, the thoughtful presents, and the warm childhood memories … right? Maybe some eggnog thrown in there?

The truth is, a lot of my clients struggle mightily with the holiday season. First of all, it’s LONG — a month, even two, during which sappy commercials and cheerful carols are ubiquitous. You might start to feel like you should be happy for the entire month of December, and that’s just not realistic.

The holidays are also loaded with expectations, obligations and expenses. How much time and money are you devoting to shopping for gifts? Are you spending every weekend between Thanksgiving and New Year’s socializing (and eating too much, and drinking too much…)? This can also be a high-stress time for families, especially if tensions between in-laws and other relatives already exist.

And if you’re going through something difficult in your own life — unemployment, mourning the death of a loved one, or adjusting to a medical diagnosis, to name a few possibilities — you may find that all the focus on joy is just too much.

Check back for upcoming posts that specifically address how to handle family conflict and personal sadness during the holiday season. For now, here are some general thoughts on how you might avoid burnout:

1. Just say no. Do you really need to go to your cousin’s friend’s holiday open house? Is it essential that you and/or your children participate in every gift exchange opportunity that crosses your path? Be planful about whom you buy for, and how you spend your precious leisure time. It’s OK to pass on a few parties and write up thoughtful notes in lieu of gifts for the people on the perimeter of your life.

2. Avoid overindulging in food & alcohol. I know, I know, this is an unpopular one. But please step away from the Christmas cookies, candy, cheesy potatoes and peppermint mochas — or at least limit them. Try not to let the fun of the holidays turn into a food free-for-all or you’ll be hounded by guilt, digestive problems and extra pounds. And alcohol is a depressant. If you’re already feeling exhausted and a little blue, going overboard on the booze is going to bring you down even more over the course of the season. Plus, being intoxicated may increase the risk of conflict with loved ones.

3. Make time for low-key, inexpensive holiday activities. Take your kids on a drive to scope out other people’s holiday decorations. Make a favorite holiday dish, stay home and play games. Watch Love Actually for the 20th time. Go to religious services. Do what makes you feel connected to the holidays.

4. Don’t be a slave to tradition: This Christmas or Hanukkah isn’t going to be the same as last year or any other year. When we attempt to recreate events, we risk disappointment. Be willing to reinvent, modify or abandon traditions that are no longer working for your family. Just because you *always* do something doesn’t mean you have to do it exactly the same way this year — especially if it’s not fun anymore or involves too much work.

5. Act opposite: The moment you notice yourself gunning for that parking spot at Wegmans is the moment you need to pass it by and park farther away. When you find yourself about to tell someone off at Target, smile instead. Notice your emotions and make a conscious decision to neutralize frustration rather than give into it. Don’t let the holidays turn you into someone you’re not.

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