Seasonal burn out: getting though the Christmas season

My first Christmas card of the year arrived a few days ago and for a moment I was filled with dread. When am I going to have the time to buy, write out and send my Christmas cards?! Although this time of year is associated with joy, there is a lot of added pressure too that can leave us feeling burnt out. Weekends that would normally allow you sone time to relax or engage in self-care activities are now taking up with shopping and planning for Christmas. Our calendars become filled with social engagements. The shops and car parks are so full when we have time to shop which makes it extra stressful. How will we afford it all? 

How do we recognise when we are close to burn out and what can we do about it?

Symptoms of burn out

Typically symptoms of burn out include …

Physical symptoms: 

  • Fatigue: being more tired than normal, feeling lethargic and depleted of energy
  • Illness: picking up more coughs and colds. When our natural resources are depleted our immune system weakens
  • Change in appetite: eating more or less than usual 
  • Insomnia: struggling to fall/stay asleep despite feeling tired

Mental/Emotional symptoms

  • Difficulty concentrating: struggling to focus or becoming forgetful
  • Feeling angry: initial irritability can turn into resentment, frustration and anger
  • Feeling anxious: worrying and feeling tense
  • Feeling depressed: sadness or even feelings of hopelessness 
  • Withdrawing from friends and/or family: this could mean focussing instead on social media, playing games on your phone, etc. 

If you notice you are feeling some of these symptoms at this time of year, you are likely feeling some Christmas burn out. Burn out that is not resolved can become depression or an anxiety disorder. So what can you do?

How to ease burn out 

Slow down and set boundaries

Remember that this season is a marathon, not a sprint and like all marathon runners you need to be fuelled to get through and enjoy it to the full. In this instance, fuelling yourself means taking some time for self care; maybe put aside two hours on Saturday afternoon for shopping and schedule two hours to meet a friend for coffee or have a bath and read a good book. Make these breaks as important in your diary as anything else you schedule. 

Talk it out

Open up about how you’re feeling to a friend, relative or counsellor and ask for help when you need it. Just talking about what is going on for us can ease the pressure and leave us feeling restored. 

Fuel yourself

Prioritise sleep and fuel your body with water and healthy food. Fuel your mind with activities you know rejuvenate you.


When you are overloaded, it is worth trying to prioritise your to-do list and commitments. Can you ask others to help? Do you need to do all of the list today/this week or can some of it wait. Do you have to say yes to every invitation or can you pick and choose the events you really want to attend? It can be helpful to review your to do list like this regularly. 

Let go of perfect

We can have a desire to create the “perfect Christmas” for us and our loved ones which adds an extra element of pressure, both on our times and finances. Some flexibility is needed, as well as the understanding that the best Christmases are the ones when we feel relaxed enough to enjoy them. 

Be present

We can be so busy rushing around ticking off our to-do list and managing Christmas that we forget to actually enjoy it. Whether you are busy preparing for Christmas or on the day itself, take some time to sit back and just ‘be’ for a few moments. Take in the sights, sounds and scents and enjoy the fruits of your labours.

Final thoughts

If you are feeling burn out, it is also worthwhile looking at whether this is a pattern in your life and something that needs attention. Regular self care and self-awareness can really help to keep on top of balancing looking after yourself while getting everything you need done. 

Looking after yourself and preparing yourself to enjoy the Christmas season could be the best present you give yourself this year. 

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few moments, even you”

Anne Lamott

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