Preventing Burnout and Staying Sane During the Holidays

Stress, anxiety, and depression can become amplified during the holidays. Even when all of our demands are things we actually want to do, the sheer number of obligations during the months of November and December can overwhelm even the best planner.

In a recent article, Wall Street Journal writer Andrea Petersen reports that there is no greater risk factor for anxiety disorders than being born female. She found that women are twice as likely as men to develop an anxiety disorder, and that women’s illnesses generally last longer, have more severe symptoms, and are more disabling. She also found that anxious women are more likely to develop an additional anxiety disorder, an eating disorder, or depression. With all of the stress of simply being a woman in everyday life, the pursuit of happiness can seem like a far-off dream.

The trick to managing the season is not to think you can conquer the stressful events in your life, but rather to create conditions in which those events don't drown you. You can decrease the impact the demands of the holidays have on you while increasing your enjoyment of the season.

Here are some tips for reducing your anxiety during the holidays:

  1. Acknowledge your feelings. It's okay if you're not feeling thrilled 24/7 just because it's "the holidays." And if you feel lonely, seek out others in a way that feels supportive to you.
  2. Be realistic. The holidays don't have to be perfect. Things change and some traditions may fade to the past. At the same time, be understanding. Remember that others may be just as stressed as you are, and try to assume the best when interacting.
  3. Create a budget. Know how much you want to spend on gifts and party supplies before you go shopping, and stick to that budget. Use this mentality about food, alcohol, and exercise, as well. Don't abandon healthy habits and tell yourself you'll resume after New Year's. While you might indulge here and there, don't forget what makes you feel good physically and emotionally.
  4. Say no. You can't do it all, and attempting to will make you feel resentful when you should be enjoying yourself. If you truly can't say no to something you don't want to do, try to remove something else you do have control over, or add something that will make you feel good, like a massage or yoga class.
  5. Take a break. Take some time for yourself, even if it's 5 minutes per day to lock yourself in a quiet room, close your eyes, and breathe deeply.

And if you need to, talk to a professional. Even if you do everything listed above, you may still feel sad or anxious beyond what feels manageable. Talk to your doctor, therapist, or coach about what you're feeling.