Many of us think of the Christmas period as a time for celebrating, but it can quickly and easily become a stressful affair. Whether it’s financial pressures and over-spending, unrelenting social obligations, or being forced to spend time with extended family, it’s a simple fact that Christmas is overwhelming, at times, often leading to physical and mental exhaustion and, more seriously, BURNOUT!
In this special festive blog edition we are going to dive into what exactly this burnout is, some of the ways it can manifest itself, and, most importantly, some tips and tricks to help you avoid getting sucked in.
First things first, what is burnout?
“Burnout is the result of overwork or stress and Christmas can quickly become an emotional grenade we don’t realise we were holding until it’s too late,” (Lorna Evans, Psychotherapist, and spokesperson for the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP))
Now, we have covered this topic in previous articles/blog entries, when looking at work-life balance, but it is important to know that it isn’t just something that can affect you at (or due to) work. Burnout can strike anywhere, at any time – especially over demanding periods like Christmas and New year, and one should always be on the lookout to avoid its triggers.
Burnout is a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion, brought on by excessive and prolonged (chronic) stress. Coined in the 1970s, by American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger, it can occur when we feel emotionally overwhelmed or drained, and unable to keep up with constant demands. According to recent surveys, over a third of people say they feel burned out, even before Christmas arrives, with a further 68% saying they find the whole holiday period to be an excessively stressful time.
“Many people find themselves under pressure at this time to socialise more than they want to and spend time with people they may have spent the whole year avoiding,” (Lorna Evans)
Obvious triggers – too many people, not enough time/money
Many obvious triggers can cause holiday stress and burnout:
The first and, perhaps, most common, is having to spend a prolonged period of time with relatives, the especially extended family you are maybe not as familiar with, in day-to-day life. This can often lead to tension, disagreements, and arguments.
Secondly (or perhaps joint-first, actually), is the financial strain the festive period can bring. This can hit from two angles. Primarily, as it’s generally one of the most expensive periods a family can face, annually, there is often increased pressure on the bank account(s) and, if you were struggling to get by as it is, the pressure of presents, luxurious food, and activities, can be the straw that breaks the reindeer’s back. This can be further strained by the fact that many of us find ourselves working significantly longer hours and overtime, to pay for said presents, food, and Christmas expenses. Getting dragged out to social obligations (and spending extra money), for fear of disappointing or upsetting others, when what we need is to take time to slow down, relax, and wind down can result in reduced sleep, bad moods, and increased irritability, alongside the added stress.
On the point of socialising – “‘No’ really is the hardest word to say, and if you tend to please others, you’re going to find it very stressful,” says Evans. “After the year we’ve all had, it is crucial to create healthy boundaries for ourselves, as this may be the first real chance we’ve had to take a break in a long time.” Sometimes, even the change to our routines over the holiday season can have an impact on the way we feel. We may end up going to bed later, eating more, or consuming more alcohol or richer foods, while doing less physical exercise. These lifestyle changes can have a knock-on effect on our mood and stress levels.
A final, and particularly prevalent issue, at the moment, is that this Christmas could be the first one spent with loved ones missing. For those who have lost family members or friends, grief can be a difficult emotion to process over the festive period. The pressure to ‘keep up appearances while dealing with the loss of a loved one can be extremely hard to cope with, particularly when surrounded by a sense of collective joy and celebration.
Burnout? Nope, take back control!
When researching this topic, we found that the internet is littered with so-called tips, tricks, and ‘hacks’. Some of these you will have seen yourself when trying to prepare for the upcoming festivities. Tips such as making clear plans (with a diary or notebook), pre-ordering as much as you can to save on last-minute panic, completing certain jobs early (like wrapping or food prep.), and tracking your budget to avoid overspending but, to be perfectly honest, these felt a bit like teaching Grandmother to suck eggs. No, we think the real secret to a stress-free Christmas involves grabbing the proverbial reindeer by the horns and TAKING BACK CONTROL!
We believe that the art of achieving this involves three key ingredients, both of which involve putting yourself first:
Schedule some ‘me time’ to avoid reaching holiday burnout
From indulging in a hot bath, heading out on a long walk, or getting nose-deep in a good book, don’t forget to carve out some time for some self-care activities, this Christmas. Refreshing, relaxing, and switching off are key to improve mental well-being, and reducing stress. Further than that – switching off and giving yourself that much-needed downtime, actually makes you more productive in the long run.
Finlay Haswell, Physiologist at AXA PPP Healthcare, tells us that the way we live can be overwhelming, “The world we live in is hyper-stimulating and distracting with our work and personal lives overlapping. There is constant pressure to make more money, be fitter, more productive, and so on. Most of us need to learn how to switch off and understand that it is important for our overall health.” He goes on to say “Have you noticed that our best ideas often come while we’re out walking, cooking, or in the shower? This is because during these periods of downtime a different part of our brain is allowed to work so it’s certainly worth noting how you feel when you give yourself time to switch off.”
Adopt the gentle art of saying “No!”
It’s ok to say no, and put yourself first. After the past couple of years, we have all had, this is more important than ever. We live in a world where saying “yes” is often the default answer to everything. This is especially true at Christmas, be it to things such as hosting the family or spending money we don’t have. Previous research by Mind backs this up, too, discovering that over a quarter of people feel pressurized to have the ‘perfect Christmas’. Meanwhile, one in 10 people feels unable to cope, rising to a third, if battling with mental health challenges.
The pressure to have a perfect Christmas can suck all the joy out of the season itself. If you need a night in, stay home. If you know you can’t afford to contribute to a collection fund, be honest. You are under no obligation to say ‘yes’ to everything.
“It’s okay to put your mental health first. If you’ve got financial worries, try to stick to a budget and be kind to yourself – looking after yourself matters more than buying expensive gifts. Skip the next meet-up and listen to a relaxing podcast, or go for a walk or run in a nearby park.” (Stephen Buckley, Head of Information at Mind)
Whether it’s contributing to a present you can’t afford or feeling devoid of motivation, learn when to say “no” with confidence. Being honest and open with loved ones about your circumstances will help those around you understand how you feel.
Ditch the tech, and go phone-free – If you’re at work then try taking a lunch break without looking at your phone. Leave your phone in your drawer and the answer to that problem you’ve been trying to solve all day may just come to you! When you’re spending time with friends or your partner then switch your phone off – just 10 to 15 minutes of real face-to-face connection will help your brain to de-stress. Try leaving your phone at home when you go and visit friends and family. You never know, you might actually prefer it.
“That’s all good and well, e-PA, but I have a business to run… I can’t afford to switch off and relax over Christmas… What about my clients, and incoming enquiries?!”
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While you or your staff are busy ‘Rocking around the Christmas tree’, we can cover your phone calls, emails, and any social media enquiries – handling them professionally, taking messages, processing orders, or whatever it is you need to go away, switch off, unwind and enjoy the holiday period, with your loved ones.
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