If the last six weeks were intended to stress people out, then by all means, call me stressed out. Burned out, more like it. Partaking in overly-indulgent holiday parties, feasting and bonding with distant family members, throwing cash around like it grows on trees in order to buy non-essential Christmas gifts, listening to all of the advertisers convince us that we’re not doing enough or spending enough, plastering the house with lights and other symbols of supposed merriment and feeling the pressure to meet everyone’s (unrealistic) expectations over the holidays is enough to make me glad that January 2 is finally here.
Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy the holidays (when they are kept simple and don’t drag on for two months), but like so many other people, adding the stress of the season on top of an already full agenda of work, kids and other activities is enough to send me into a state of complete and utter burnout. It happens just about every year, and with that, I am left floundering for a positive and healthy way to recover.
Someone once told me that burnout happens when our investment of energy is increasing while the return on that investment is decreasing. Meaning, there is no relationship between the number of hours we spend on the holidays or at work or with a certain person that leads to burnout. Burnout simply happens when we continue to invest our energy and there is not enough physical, emotional or spiritual payback.
I used to think that being burned out could be solved by simply crawling under the covers and willing all of life’s stressors to simply go away. Same thing goes for a vacation, going for a long run or watching movies all weekend. But nothing could be further from the truth of how to deal with burnout–holiday or otherwise.
That’s because recovering from this state is less about lounging on the beach or having a couple of cocktails. Instead, it’s more about finding more meaning in our life. It’s about finding things that feed us and bring us joy and happiness and energy and positivity. Things that we don’t always do during the hustle and bustle of the holidays.
Think of it this way: Have you ever been doing something that was fun and engaging and then were surprised to find out that it had been two hours when it only felt like a few minutes? Or worse, how many times have you been doing something you hate and two minutes felt like two hours? The only way to get more of the former and less of the latter is to change where and how we invest our energy. Another wise person told me once that we only wake up each day with a certain amount of energy–physical and mental–so we have to pick and choose carefully where we want to invest that energy. A good point that I have never forgotten, yet one that I find hard to maintain during the holidays. Thus, my annual burnout.
Luckily, I have found a few things to be helpful when recovering from this state:
1. Practice saying “no” and “yes” more. Say “no” to the things that you instinctively know are going to zap your energy (that neighborhood party you really don’t want to go to) and say “yes” to the things that could potentially feed your soul (a new workout, a cup of tea with someone who inspires you, an event where you will be surrounded by positive people, etc.).
2. Go inward. Sometimes discovering what is really causing the burnout is the first step. You may think it’s your over-active niece and nephew, when in reality, it’s the fact that your mother never appreciates you or your efforts around the holidays. Same thing applies with a job. If you come home each night exhausted, then perhaps it’s not because you’re working 10 hour days; maybe it’s because your boss doesn’t appreciate you or make you feel valued. I find that journaling and meditation help immensely with this.
3. Trying something new–and scary. Stepping outside of your comfort zone to achieve a new goal can be a most excellent way of getting out of a funk and seeing more clearly. Over the holidays I went rock climbing, and as scary as it was, it was also exhilarating. Afterward, I had a renewed sense of confidence and was better able to put certain stressors in perspective.
4. Garbage in=garbage out. When I feed my body gross food or too much food, I am left feeling somewhat depressed and unable to do anything but zone out in front of the TV. On the other hand, when I eat light, nutritious foods, I think more clearly and have a more positive outlook, which helps me to better figure out how to recover from stress or burnout.
5. Make necessary changes. Recovering from burnout–or avoiding it all together–comes down to changing what’s not working for you. Be it your job, your relationships or your lifestyle, if there is something that is not filling you with joy and energy, figure out what it is and set some goals to change that. Just having a vision of what you want can help get you out of your burnout state.
Good luck and happy 2012!