Preventing Burnout this Holiday Season
Experiencing exhaustion? Emotional fatigue? Life overload? Feeling drained? Overwhelmed?
Burnout is a term often used to describe the convergence of such feelings, and it’s a condition which is easily exacerbated at this time of year when extra demands and expectations on our time and emotional presence increase. A season which is characterized by joy and peace can have the opposite effect on our psyche.
Many people who suffer through burnout have taken on too many responsibilities. An overloaded schedule at the office combined with added demands at home can become too much for even the most disciplined and organized, not to mention the added pressures and heightened expectations of the holidays.
Did you know that statistically, if you are a pastor, counselor, or caregiver, you face a higher risk of emotional fatigue and burnout? Burnout affects most pastors, counselors, therapists, and mental health workers at some point in their careers. What can you do to safeguard yourself?
If you are concerned about burnout this holiday season, here are five effective strategies you can employ to avoid the crash and burn:
- Set personal and professional boundaries. Only you can determine what is truly most important for you. Protect what is most important in your schedule by putting it in/on your calendar. If you are planning as a couple or family, be sure to include your significant other(s) in putting those personal and family holiday items on the calendar.
Use your calendar, then, to your advantage. Don’t be pressured into making snap decisions, but rather give yourself time to think. Say, “I need to check my calendar and get back to you.” Say NO to things that encroach.
Determine in advance which days you will be OFF, which hours during the week you will be UNAVAILABLE, and include turning off your devices during these scheduled times.
- Keep up with your life’s routines. What is your daily routine? Coffee in the morning? Devotional reading and prayer? Catching the headlines or taking in a podcast? A morning jog or workout? Our routines are emotionally settling to us, so it can be especially important to continue in them in the unpredictable holiday season.
Routines can be most difficult to keep on track if your holiday plans involve travel. Finding replacements for items in your routine can be challenging: a stretching/exercise routine and laps in your hotel’s heated pool might be substituted for a trip to your local gym and around-the-block jog, and so forth.
As schedules tend to get out of control at the holidays, your routine can keep you feeling in control.
- Remember that communication is key. Earlier, we spoke of the importance of setting boundaries. Communicating those boundaries is very important. Let people know what they can and cannot expect from you in advance. Send out an email about your holiday season availability.
Consider changing your email signature to include the dates you will be unavailable so people know, in advance, when you will be reachable. Utilize “away-from-the-office” email and “unavailable” messaging replies. Communicate clearly when people can expect to hear from you next: “I’ll be out of the office and unavailable until January 5th. I will return your call then. In the meantime, if this is an emergency, you can reach my associate …”
- Practice soul and personal care. Everyone needs downtime, especially those in the helping professions. Even after setting boundaries, maintaining your routines, and communicating all the above with colleagues and clients, burnout can still creep up on you. The holidays are not the time to pause your spiritual disciplines, but rather a time to rely on them. This is one of the best times of years to lean in, closer. How often Thanksgiving comes and goes without our having meaningfully focused on gratitude and thanks; Christmas comes and goes without our having sincerely celebrated our Lord’s birth; New Year’s comes and goes without our having prayerfully reflected on the year passed and looked forward.
The holidays are also famous for overindulgence—in social gatherings, meals, beverages, and desserts. Who can say no to an extra helping? Don’t let too much of a good thing become a bad thing! Give yourself permission to indulge, but responsibly. Keep to your healthy living and healthy eating boundaries and routines. Keep up your balanced diet. Get your exercise in. Get yourself good nights of sleep. Be sure to care for yourself.
- Lean into your community. Remember that burnout commonly affects individuals involved in the direct care of others. Working constantly with people who are in pain takes a heavy toll. Realize that many of your peers feel the same way as you and face the same pressures you’re facing as the holidays approach. Talk openly with your peers, realizing that it can be good for all parties. Ongoing peer support and consultation can be very helpful in preventing burnout.
Join a professional organization. Throughout the year you’ll be kept up to date on the latest developments in your field and offered much in the way of useful information and helpful resources. Most importantly, you’ll become part of a community. You’ll be able to meet and regularly interact with colleagues.
If you haven’t already, join Honey Lake Clinic’s Therapist Network. HLCTN exists to bring qualified therapists, treatment centers and mental health professionals together, providing tools and resources, so that we are all more effective in helping our patients experience psychological and spiritual renewal, reclaiming their lives and achieving their God-given potential.