The Happiest Time of the Year? Holiday Burnout, Loneliness, and What You Can Do About it Right Now.
Everybody knows the holidays aren’t really about all the errands, all the stuff, or all the money spent. And yet, we find ourselves in this spot every year, battling holiday burnout with the connection we really crave.
This time of year can be hard for many of us, particularly those feeling the loss of a loved one, new parents who are too busy or sleep-deprived to have much of a social life (or because their friends have stopped checking in), some might even feel lonely in their own marriage.
I think admitting we are lonely can feel a bit taboo. More likely, we might say we’re just too busy lately to have the time to see the people we want to see. But isn’t all that busy-ness part of it?
For most of us, the expectations and obligations increase dramatically during the holiday season. Often, it’s in the spirit of connecting with those we care about, whether it’s family members, neighbors, or even strangers in need. We want to show we care and they matter. But the pressures of giving and doing for others—the expectations and keeping up with the Joneses—crammed into basically four short weeks have a way of squashing nearly all the good vibes right out of our good intentions.
The truth is, introvert or extrovert, busy or not, we are hardwired to connect. Those of us with strong connections with others tend to be happier, healthier, and live longer. It’s not about the number of connections (or the number of party invites). It’s about the quality of the connection.
And then December hits and between the gift shopping and wrapping, sending holiday cards, the home decorating, the baking, the party-going, the travel booking... not to mention the holiday budgeting to make it all work, it’s no wonder we’re all frazzled and wiped out by the time the new year rolls in. (A friend was just telling me last week that her husband feels like he’s “done being around people right now” because he’s so overextended this season.)
Ironically, there’s something about all those expectations and obligations, errands, and efforts that can make us feel even further removed from the people that matter most to us. Friends, this is the opposite of what we’re going for here!
What I think we really want is to express our love for others and feel loved in return. It’s really that simple. Why shouldn’t it feel easy?
I actually believe we CAN have the magic without the mile-long to-do list, in December and year-round. It just takes reprioritization in three steps: Reflect, simplify, then be proactive with what matters most.
Why are you doing things this way? Are you spreading yourself too thin because you don’t want to disappoint others? Are you getting caught up in the details, but forgetting the bigger picture? Or are the details where it’s at for you? What do you really want? What’s the true goal here?
Like, sure, I’d love to decorate my home with popcorn garlands for example. It looks so charming and cozy. And it might impress a houseguest or two.
But, have you ever made a popcorn garland? Do you know how tedious and messy that job is? Wouldn’t you rather just pour some butter over that popcorn bowl and call it a day? Here’s an even better idea: Fix up that buttery bowl of popcorn and call your partner, your kids, your friends (whoever!) into the living room for a movie and couch cuddles instead.
Here’s a true story for you: Cooking and baking stresses me out. It’s just not my thing really. But, making memories with my kids matters to me. I used to do scratch-made holiday cookies with my kids. They loved cutting out fun shapes and decorating with icing and sprinkles. Meanwhile, I stressed over the messes that were spilling onto the floor and trying (to no avail) to make sure nobody forgot to cover their mouths while coughing near the food, all while making second and third batches of dough.
Then, one year, I finally decided this was crazy. I wanted the experience without the stress.
So, now, I use store-bought cookie dough and I let the floors get messy. We even invite friends with littles over to join us but to make it low-stress on everyone (not just me), we do it open-house style. In other words, come when you can, and stay as long (or as short) as you want. And it’s great. The kids have a blast. I get some quality connection time with friends. It really checks all the boxes for me.
Once you’ve figured out what your goals are, ask yourself: How many of the tasks on my list are in line with my goals? Give yourself permission to break from tradition when it doesn’t fall in line. Remember this is only one season out of one year of your life. You get to decide whether you are only opting out for now or whether this is a permanent change.
Traditions only work when they are life-giving, communicate our values and make us feel safe. It’s a misunderstanding to assume that traditions by their very nature should never be questioned or should never evolve. Everything meaningful in life evolves (languages, marriages, landscapes, the weather, our genes…)
That said, your breaking from tradition also doesn’t need to make a bold statement. It might just simply mean that traveling with a new baby isn’t very convenient this year and you’ll try to make it to Nana’s house for Christmas dinner next year.
Breaking from tradition might also mean creating a new one. Like trying to master grandma’s famous cookie recipe yourself or making sure everyone in the family has her recipe on a handwritten index card as a gift this year. Or sending Happy New Year cards instead of Christmas ones, after the holiday hustle has subsided.
If you’re reading this with just days remaining before Christmas finally hits, you might feel like it’s too late. You’re too far in to rewrite traditions this year.
You’ve already RSVP’d “yes” to all the Christmas parties. Your holiday budget is already blown. You’re already feeling that cold coming on. What’s to be done but follow through on all your commitments?
That might be true, but there are still things that you can do to simplify as you go. No one is going to care if you wear last year’s holiday dress again this year. People will get over it if you select a simpler recipe for Christmas dinner or just do a take-and-bake pizza instead. Your family will be just as surprised if there are unwrapped gifts under the tree as they would be if they were all wrapped immaculately. Cash or leftover Halloween candy in stockings? Totally acceptable. (Just maybe don’t use the jack-o-lantern-shaped ones!)
Next, be proactive about the things that matter most.
I’m talking about the really important stuff here. Be proactive even when it feels like you don’t have time because that feeling probably won’t go away completely anyway.
I remember a day not that long ago when I was feeling like my stress levels were beyond my limit. It was a pretty awful day, actually. It was also one of those days that was just jam-packed with appointments and events, so I really didn’t have time to spare to collect myself. But, I did the impossible anyway: I called a friend. Luckily, she answered. And she let me vent for a solid 10 minutes. By the end of the call, I felt so much lighter. I felt more able to handle what was next on my agenda. And I felt her love and support.
That 10 minutes spent reaching out did more for me than I can tell you, which is kind of funny because usually my knee-jerk thought is “Oh, I don’t have time for that. I’ll call her later.” And then later never comes.
If I could have one-holiday wish for you, dear reader, it would be that you understand that connecting with others is a necessity and you deserve it, regardless of whatever is going on in your life right now. Don’t wait for someone else to reach out first. Don’t wait till you have more time. Someone has to go first. It may as well be you.
*For some additional reading/listening on loneliness, check out these articles I found:
12 Things to Do When You’re Feeling Lonely, According to Experts (Good Housekeeping)
Coffee & Crumbs podcast, Episode 49: Motherhood + Loneliness
And if you’re struggling with thoughts of suicide, please don’t struggle alone. Call the caring folks at Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Sign up to get the latest weekly blogs sent straight to your inbox