“Burnout” is a term often used to describe feelings of desperation, extreme stress, and the inability to continue with, or loss of interest in, scheduled activities. Sufferers of “holiday burnout” are often overwhelmed by the perceived extra demands and expectations associated with preparation for, and celebration of, the holiday season.

Some cases of holiday burnout are likely related to episodes of depression, which can peak at holiday time. Others report feeling burned out simply because they have, either because of pressure from others or due to their own expectations, taken on too many responsibilities. An overloaded social schedule combined with the demands of entertaining, gift shopping, decorating, and other holiday traditions can evoke panic in even the most organized among us.

Finally, family and other interpersonal conflicts often come to the surface at holiday time, due both to individual differences in expectations and increased overall stress levels. If you feel you are prone to experiencing holiday burnout, you can work to formulate an effective holiday stress management strategy by considering the following four keys to avoiding holiday burnout:

  • Perspective
  • Preconceived Ideas
  • Planning
  • Permission

Perspective

Try to keep the whole experience in its proper perspective by remembering that the holiday season represents only a very short portion of the year, which will indeed soon be at its end. This need not be by definition the most important or meaningful time of the year; only you can decide what is meaningful for you. Consider that many, many others feel the same way as you and are also experiencing disillusion, stress, or anxiety.

Preconceived Ideas

Banish preconceived ideas of what the holiday season should be like. Admittedly, this can be a difficult task, but it can also be very liberating. Think about your holiday traditions and try to separate those you truly enjoy from those you feel you “have” to do because you’ve always done so or you are expected by others to do so. Consider doing something different to celebrate this year. It’s equally important to banish preconceived notions about what you should be feeling at this time. Try to ignore merchandising and mass-media implications of how you should be feeling. In fact, it’s extremely unrealistic to expect to feel an increase in love, harmony, forgiveness, and other virtues when you’re stressed and overextended.

Planning

Always think before committing to any responsibility or social event. Ideally, make no snap decisions and give yourself time to reflect on any proposed commitment or responsibility (say you have to check your calendar first). Decide what is the right level of social activity for you to feel your happiest and best – from a party every day to none at all – and plan accordingly. Remember that what sounds fun (or manageable) two months in advance might be the stuff of headaches when combined with other pressures at holiday time. If you’re planning as part of a couple or family unit, talk over your feelings in advance and agree to make commitments only after discussion with the others involved.

Permission

Finally, give yourself permission – to feel as you do and to make the choices you need. Do not judge or compare your feelings or actions with those of anyone else. You have the right to define for yourself the things that are important for you and how you choose to celebrate the holidays.