How to Avoid Holiday Burnout

December 1, 2016

Is it just me or does the entire month of December feel like a high speed chase ending with a 10-car pile up around New Year’s Eve?

There’s a lot to love about December: the twinkly lights, gathering with friends and family, having dedicated time off, the non-stop holiday music, and if you live in a colder climate, the chance of snow.

Then there’s the other December: the non-stop obligatory holiday parties, the mountains of gifts to buy, the obligations, the many loose ends to tie up, the many projects to complete. In order to get everything done and survive the holiday season, we overload our schedules, leaving little time for anything other than racing from one task to the next.

Whether or not you celebrate the winter holidays, it’s easy to get sucked in to intensity of the season.  If nothing else, you get sucked in to the feeling of profound urgency to cram in as much as possible before the end of the year.

So you speed up and make yourself busier than normal. You spin your wheels and add more. When the holidays finally hit, you’ll have plenty of time off to rest, right?

Yeah, when was the last time that was actually true?

The truth is that energetically, we often find ourselves at odds with this season. As we move deeper and deeper towards, then into winter, we enter the time of the year intended for slowing down, turning the volume down, simplifying, and reflecting. Late fall through winter is an inward moving time of year.

Many animals hibernate this time of year.

Modern humans do the opposite. We push, stretch, speed up and increase the volume. We make ourselves busier than we need to and rather than reflecting, we tend to turn our attention outward. Eventually, we burn ourselves out and collapse into an exhausted puddle by the time we have “time off,” which is usually spent with extended family and friends.

I have a theory that people don’t get sick during the holiday season because the weather is colder; people get sick because they are actively resisting the natural energy of the season and are at odds with the actual needs of their body, mind, and soul.

So what do we do?

We can’t cancel the holidays. I mean you could, but I don’t think that’s a solution that anyone would like.

Instead, I suggest creating more equilibrium by aligning more with nature rather than opposing it.

Here are a few tips for maintaining your equilibrium throughout the month of December (and even into the new year!):

1. Listen to the light: Rise with the sun and go to bed when the sun goes to bed.

I realize this might not be a realistic action for everyone, but I believe it is the most essential. The more you force yourself to stay up late to get more done, the more it wears on your system. In Ayurveda, there’s a concept called “ojas,” which is an energetic substance determining your physical vitality and emotional wellbeing. Ojas is a byproduct of healthy digestion, but is impacted by many other factors including sleep and stress.

When you’re extra stressed and sleeping less, you deplete your ojas and have what I call “energy leaks,” leading to fatigue, a lack of vitality, and even illness.

In the winter, the sun goes down earlier, reminding you to wind down sooner and give yourself more time to rest deeply and restore your body. During a season of higher than average stress, you need more rest than usual.

Listen to the light.

I’m not suggesting you go to bed at 5pm, when the sun starts to set. Instead, think about staying in more often when it’s dark out. Do as the animals do. Hibernate a little when it’s dark. And when it’s light out, take advantage of the light and spend time outdoors or at the very least, spend that “light time” more active.

2. Set strong boundaries: For your time, especially.

Get really clear on when you are willing to get things done. Set realistic deadlines. Don’t add, subtract. This is not the time of year to try and do more. It’s the time to do less.

There are very, very few things that are so important that you absolutely have to squeeze them in, no matter what.

It’s really easy to cave and add in just one more thing to your plate. Then one thing becomes 5 things and now you’re even busier than before. I choose to teach less in December than I used to. I used to do lots of workshops, travel a bunch, sub extra classes, and even do special benefit classes in December. ‘Tis the season. I’d also get sick as soon as I had a day off.

Now, I choose to take time off to free up my schedule and spend more time with my family, as well as attending to my own self-care needs. Best professional decision I’ve ever made.

When I don’t set strong boundaries, anything goes. This creates a less stable container for my ojas and allows for leaks. I’d rather enjoy December instead of try to survive it.

3. Honor the season

For many of us, wintertime is colder and drier and darker. In order to create balance we need activities that warm us up, lube us up, and light us up. Make sure you are still making time to move your body, especially in the morning when your energy is lower and more sluggish. Make sure you’re eating foods that balance the season instead of antagonizing it. If winter is cold and dry, best foods for balance or warm and wet. Soups, roasted veggies, and baked apples are good examples of eating for the season. Ice cream is an example of a food that opposes the energy of the season.

If you need some help with healthy eating, join my upcoming Conscious Healthy Eating program, beginning January 6th.

When you sign up, you get a copy of my “Top Tips for Healthy Eating during the Holiday Season.”

4. Slow down and simplify

What is absolutely essential? What isn’t? Get clear on that before the true holiday hysteria hits. Know what you can eliminate without feeling guilty or feeling like you failed. Letting go of the excess is a winter necessity. You aren’t a squirrel hoarding nuts to keep you going all winter long; you are a human being that only has so much time, energy, and attention.

5. Make time for rest

Rest can take many forms. Rest might be a midday meditation or a weekly restorative yoga class or catching your own catnap while the kiddos are napping or in school. On the days I am the busiest or most stressed out, I make time to do a restorative pose in the middle of the living room. Even if both kids are climbing all over me, it’s better than burning myself out.

This is the one I am most likely to forget, but when I don’t get enough rest, my immune system tanks and forces me to rest. So it happens one way or the other, but it’s much healthier when you can choose when and how to rest.

6. Self-care is essential

Whatever self-care looks like for you, make MORE time for your self-care. I spend more time this time of year giving myself nightly foot massages, which ground and calm me.  Self-care is an individual expression of your needs. Attend to YOUR needs.

7. Consciously Connect

You don’t have to go to every party or every gathering. You might want to and you might even be able to, but sometimes you have to and should pass.

Consciously choose which gatherings will nourish you and which will deplete you.

If you’re having people over, make it a potluck, even if it’s family. Gathering together shouldn’t be stressful. When we connect with those we love the most, it should build our ojas. Gathering together isn’t about the food you eat or the presents you receive or the pictures you’ll take.  Gathering together with the ones you love is about the warmth you feel and the light it creates.

Consciously connect this season. Make time for those you love. They bring us into balance each and every time.

8. Consciously Reflect

‘Tis the season to turn inward. Give yourself time to pause, observe, and reflect. Or just be present with what you’re feeling. This can take the form of meditation or journaling. Or you can simply take a walk and listen to the thoughts pulsing through your mind. How you choose to reflect is up to you, but inward attention is an essential part of maintaining a healthy balance in the frenzied pace of the holiday season.


Wishing you a sweet, sane, and stellar December!

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