The holidays are a wonderful time to reflect on a successful year and appreciate what actually matters: friends, family, loved ones, and dark chocolate peanut butter cups (or your favorite decadent treat of choice). But the holidays are also a wonderful time for a mental burnout as year-end work deadlines loom. Compounded by an overwhelming number of social engagements and frankly, it’s enough to turn anyone into a certified Grinch.
To prevent a seemingly inevitable downward spiral, we solicited the expertise of Dr. Marty Cooper, licensed psychologist and founder of New York-based Cooper Mental Health Counseling.
“There are many reasons why people can experience burnout during the holidays,” he says, revealing that “practical” and “emotional” challenges tend to dominate our minds most in the months of November and December. “Adults may need to navigate end of year tasks at work, [but also] loneliness and lack of family, family history, and feeling othered during this season.”
“Some individuals may not have family or may have a family that they do not experience as functional, which can result in feeling lonely,” he adds.
That said, there are a handful of or preventative measures anyone (and especially content creators) can take to make this the year that they put themselves and their feelings first.
“If you know the holidays are difficult for you, start thinking about this early,” advises Cooper, noting that most clients come into therapy as a result of feeling like they’ve taken on more than they can handle. You can be a bit proactive by reflecting on what may have helped in years past, such as hiring an assistant or not working with a specific client, and then integrating these tried-and-true solutions months in advance.
Sometimes you’re only as strong as the people you surround yourself with, and it’s OK to ask for help. Rely on friends, family members, and significant others to build you up if you feel like you’re losing a grip on reality. “Let them know that this can be a hard time and that you need their support,” adds Cooper, who stresses that feelings of isolation and loneliness are most prominent during the holidays.
“When we enter into a period that may be challenging for us, we sometimes rely on ineffective coping strategies like ignoring emotions,” says Cooper, who also points out that emotions are temporary and can change. “Pay attention to your mind and body to track if they are feeling overwhelmed. If this is the case, we can use some simple self-soothing techniques like meditation or listening to soothing music.”
You may need to block off some necessary “me” among a sea of responsibilities and obligations. Activities like yoga, massages, hiking, or even napping should also come with back-up times in case something more pressing pops up and interferes with what Cooper calls “intentional experiences.”
“While this sounds simplistic, our breath is a very powerful tool and we can use it anytime and anywhere,” says Cooper. “If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, take a moment to take a deeper breath and, as you exhale, find muscle tension that can be released.” This can help to immediately relax something as small as your temples to as large as the lower half of your body.
Still struggling to find effective coping mechanisms? If so, you shouldn’t underestimate the power of therapy by seeking the assistance of a mental health professional.
“The commitment to taking care of yourself can go a long way in feeling less stressed,” says Cooper. “A professional can help you identify your feelings and think about situations from multiple lenses. It can also be a helpful place to think about any family dynamics that may be a concern with the upcoming holidays.”
The first step is to contact your insurance company for a list of participating providers. If your needs are more gender, sexuality, or trauma-specific, local community centers can also be a great resource, with some organizations offering complimentary services and sessions as a launching pad.
A less anxious you is the best version of you. Give that gift to yourself this holiday season and your 2024 will inevitably start with a bang that rivals New Year’s Eve fireworks.
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