Ever need a vacation from your vacation?
That’s how I often feel in January when I start to come down off the Christmas high. The holiday season is a whirlwind and the return to ‘real life’ feels like a shock to the system.
Well, the shock to my system usually begins after finals in December, but I used to stuff it down inside and ignore it. It’s tempting to either embrace all of the millions of things to do (food, people, driving, parties, gift wrapping, etc), or laze about at home for hours in an effort to majorly decompress. Being a couch potato can be a part time job, right?
For many, the transition from finals to going home for the holidays can be rough. The stress and buildup of exams often left me feeling depleted by the time I went home for the holidays, not able to offer much to my family except a grouchy, demanding attitude.
And let’s be real: Christmas doesn’t always live up to our expectations. It can be really hard to leave your community, friends, and school to go spend extended amounts of time with your family again. You’re suddenly reminded of why your highschool years were spent fighting with your siblings over bathrooms and controlling the tv channels. Christmas may also trigger deep wounds and pain, and home may not feel like an emotionally safe place to process those feelings.
Social media can also be a major drain on our souls during the holiday season. The constant instagram barrage of our friends’ experiences, travel, and family activities can seem much more exciting and joyous than our own, causing us to feel depressed. Christmas is supposed to be a season where we celebrate the gift of Jesus, and yet we can so often feel the burden of what we lack.
How do we do Christmas well, holistically for our mind, body, and spirit? How can we enter the season with joy and end it with joy?
Christmas is supposed to be a season where we celebrate the gift of Jesus, and yet we can so often feel the burden of what we lack.
Here are four suggestions to help you thrive this holiday season and avoid burnout:
1. Be realistic with expectations
Plan a few days to decompress after finals end. Give yourself tons of buffer and space to nap, rest, or do whatever it is you know will refresh and recharge you. Just be careful not to go overboard Netflix binging and couch sprawling isn’t wrong, but be careful to not let three days of immobility turn into three weeks. Too much of a good thing is still a bad thing.
Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Knowing how you recharge, what your capacity is, and what your relational needs are will help you create healthy expectations. If you’re an introvert, it will help you extend grace to yourself when you feel maxed out and help you know when to withdraw to recharge. If you’re an extrovert, it will help ease any guilt or fomo you may experience as a result of how you carefully choose to spend your time.
It may be helpful to talk through those expectations with family before the holidays start. Are there important events and gatherings it’s essential to be at? Are there some you can skip? What do they expect of you? Is there freedom to adjust the plans?
If your family doesn’t plan much around the holidays and everyone spends two weeks lounging, but you know you need more structure or social interaction, try to figure out how you can build that in.
2. Recognize that you’re off the hook
Did you catch that? You’re officially off the hook from what culture or others may insist from you. Deep breath. It’ll be okay. Even if it doesn’t feel like it, you’re off the hook.
- Going into debt to buy people presents
- Attending every social event and party
- Visiting family if it compromises your mental health
- Trying to please and serve others needs before caring for your own
- Feeling shame over grades, your relationship status, or lack of life direction
You are accountable before God to grow in loving him with all of your heart, mind, and soul. You are accountable to love others as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39). Anything outside of that, you are free to make your own decisions.
3. Don’t quit your rhythms (or find some)
Structure can be one of those words that sounds really bad, and can feel mentally suffocating or exhausting. But when implemented well it’s liberating, I promise.
In fact, when structure is implemented well into your life, it creates rhythms. These rhythms become habits that can anchor you in busy seasons, and help you maintain control amidst all the chaos.
The rhythms in life that help you navigate the school semester can be helpful to try and keep over the holidays. They migh include physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental rhythms like: attending church, Bible reading, journaling, exercise, and time with friends. When we go home for the holidays our days can lack structure. While that is needed occasionally, in large amounts it can lead to feeling untethered. There’s great wisdom in applying daily disciplines that can help anchor you.
4. (Try to) Plan ahead
It’s not always possible, but when you get some extra brain space it may be helpful to think some of this stuff out in advance. Surrender it all to God and see if there are specific things that you can entrust to him.
Ultimately when it comes to Christmas (or anything really), you are only responsible for yourself.
My hope and prayer is that regardless of circumstances, people, or events, you will experience deep joy this Christmas season. May you recognize that God is journeying with you, whatever season you are in, and may his presence bring you peace.