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When the Holidays Aren’t So Merry and Bright: How to Simplify the Season to Avoid Burnout

For many people, Christmas is a much-anticipated season. As soon as Halloween is over, the Christmas music is played on repeat, the Christmas tree is up, and presents are wrapped. The activities and get-togethers are joyous occasions that are looked forward to all year long. But for others,

Christmas is overwhelming, exhausting, and brings with it mourning or memories of loss. The lights, traditions, and decorations feel empty, the gatherings feel crushing, and the music exacerbating.

If you fall into the first category, there is no shame there. The magic of the season is real and taking it in to the full is not a crime. However, if you fall into the second category, there is hope. By setting boundaries and listening to what your body is telling you that you can handle this season, you

can journey through this Christmas season in a way that doesn’t feel like you need a vacation by New Years.

My Christmas Burn- Out Story

One Christmas a few years ago, I decided that I needed to be the best Pinterest Christmas Mom around. I made a homemade advent calendar for the kids complete with little toys each day that I scoured toy stores and secondhand thrift stores for. I also gathered Christmas books, enough for each day of December, raiding Little Free Libraries and discount bins so that my kids had the experience of reading a new Christmas book every night of December. We decorated cookies to give to neighbours and teachers, and made a gingerbread house complete with accessories. Add to this the Christmas concerts, festivals, and family get togethers, and I was exhausted by Christmas Eve. I remember being relieved that night, knowing that it was all over, having used up all my energy in trying to create the perfect Christmas experience for my kids. I was burnt out, peopled out, and in all honesty, a bit of a grinch come Christmas day. None of these things are wrong in and of themselves. But for me, the striving to complete all these things and the pressure I placed on myself to create the most idyllic memories, created instead exhaustion. This all led to feeling burnt out. This year, as I write this, things look a lot different. Due to bouts of sickness and just needing to take things more slowly, we still have no tree or decorations up. No, we haven’t cancelled Christmas but are listening to what our bodies need (REST!) before jumping into decorations and activities just for the sake of checking them off a list. Our kids know that we will do Christmas with the right intentions this year, with simplicity and rest built in.

So how about you? How can you find the same rest, listen to your body, and simplify this year’s Christmas season?

Step One: Tuning Into the Body

First of all, pause. Take 15 minutes to find a quiet place to sit and spend the first few minutes focusing on your breath. Feel the life-giving oxygen entering your body on the inhale, and as you exhale, focus on any tension or stress leaving your body. Now scan your body starting with your head and slowly working your way to your feet. Where are the areas of tightness and tension? Where is your body holding stress? What might your body be trying to tell you about as you focus in? If you’re finding areas of tension, focus on bringing that life-giving breath into those specific areas. Spend your time here, approach this time with curiosity, and find that rest in breathing. Van Der Kolk, in his book The Body Keeps the Score, states “Neuroscience research shows that the only way we can change the way we feel is by becoming aware of our inner experience and learning to befriend what is going inside ourselves.” Our bodies have incredible wisdom to share, and instead of powering through exhaustion, take time to honor what your body is trying to tell you. REST.

Step Two: Simplify

Next, pause to consider if you need to slow the pace of the season’s activities this year. Maybe that means picking one favorite tradition to carry out as a family instead of 5 or saying no to an invitation or festival celebration in place of staying in and having a “pajama night” at home as a family. It might mean scaling back on decorations, or even creating a new tradition that feels more balanced than

draining. Takeout dinner on Christmas eve is a new favorite tradition of ours- no cooking, and easy clean up. Invite your family into the conversation: you might be surprised at what they find is truly important. As you take steps to simplify, you may notice you are able to be more present, and mindful of the memories created as you walk through this season.

So, if you are feeling like I did a few years ago, tired, overwhelmed, and ready for Christmas to be over,maybe it’s time to re-evaluate how you approach this time of year. Take a pause. Listen to your body. And as you focus on what’s truly important for you in this season, let the burden to “do it all” fall away.

You might be surprised at how much more meaningful this season can be.


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