6 ways to avoid burnout over the holidays

Contrary to what all the carols, tinsel, and smiling Santa’s tell you, the holidays aren’t always full of cheer for a lot of people. They are can be stressful, tense, and downright miserable for some. In fact, mental health services typically see a spike in distress over the December period. Holidays can trigger bad memories, feelings of loneliness, and increased stress rates. Family drama, social obligations, time constraints and a pressure to be ‘happy’ all the time can really wear someone down.

But you don’t have to burn out these holidays. There are steps you can take to reduce your stress levels and actually enjoy this time of year!


1- Write your Absolute No list

You may have read about the importance of a No List before, and the holidays are an excellent time to use one! This should be a time of joy, filling your time with things make you happy, fulfil your values, and give back to others. So this year, take 20 minutes to sit down and write out a list of things you WON’T do these holidays. For example:

“I won’t agree to do all the cooking”
“I won’t buy the kids more then 3 presents”
“If my boss asks me to stay later at work, I will say no”
“We are not doing anything big for NYE”

Related: Saying No: watch your self care surge

2-Get support from others

The main problem I hear from my clients during this period is that they feel everything is put on them and this can be so overwhelming. Your support system is everything during the holidays, especially if you already struggle with mental health issues. Reach out to your immediate and extended loved ones for advice, extra help, or even just to vent. Professional support services are also available over the holiday period, and they are there to help. Lifeline, Beyond Blue, and eheadspace for younger ones are all open over Christmas and the New Year.

3-Schedule your self care

I tend to find that when people are at their busiest, they tell themselves “when things have calmed down, then I’ll do more self care/stress management/take care of myself”. How ridiculous is this? When we are our most stressed is when we need MORE self care.

Please do not wait until the New Year to practice self care. In fact, sit down with your calendar and schedule in your self care now. Start with a few big things (get a massage, go for a big walk, take the afternoon off). Then put in 1-2 smaller things EACH DAY (meditate, read a chapter of my book, deep breathing, home manicure). For more inspiration, check out my list of 20 self care activities you can do in 20 mins or less. 

If you are really ready to commit to prioritising your self care, you need my Complete Self Care Workbook.

4-Outsource, outsource, outsource!

As much as you can, outsource any chores, activities, or things on your to-do list that you do not enjoy. I know this is hard for a lot of people, whether it is the financial pressure or the loss of control over things. But trust me, avoiding burnout is definitely worth it. Order that Christmas ham pre-glazed, hire a cleaner, get your presents wrapped at the shopping centre, or try a pot luck style Christmas and get everyone to contribute.

5-Practice gratitude

Tis the season to be grateful! I may not be American, but this Aussie loves the Thanksgiving tradition of sharing your thanks and gratitudes. With the stress of the holidays, it can be easy to get into the mindset of “Just get through it”. But this takes away from the positive moments that this time does provide. Remember, gratitude is a self-perpetuating cycle. This means that the more gratitude you practice, the more attuned you are to things to be grateful for, and the more benefit you find from it.

Try to notice 2-3 things that you are grateful for each day. They can be as big or small as you like. e.g. the warm sunshine, a coffee with friends, setting up your tree, your kids getting excited about Santa.

6-Engage in mindfulness daily

In this busy time you are rushing around and feeling like you don’t have a second to breathe. But oh how you need to pause and do just that: breathe! Regular mindfulness meditation activates areas of the brain involved in emotional regulation, as well as stimulating the brain’s relaxation response. Taking 5-10 minutes a day to stop and be mindful can help you feel more relaxed, be open to gratitude, and reduce feelings of stress. Download Smiling Mind and get started now.

Related: 6 ways to be mindful when you hate sitting still

Happy (and stress-free!) Holidays!





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  1. Fi

    As a first-time mum, I’ve been a bit overwhelmed at the thought of Christmas this year (I’m normally organised at least a month out!), so this is a really helpful post, thank you! I particularly like the concept of a ‘NO’ list. I’m awful at saying no, so I will be starting this list today!

    1. Jess

      So glad you found this helpful, definitely give the no list a try-it can be liberating!

  2. I’m single with no kids and minimal family so my holidays are always a bit the opposite. I’m spending a few days with family around Xmas day but I don’t have much else on. I’m in a work environment that doesn’t have a work party. I’ve agreed to babysit for someone at New Year’s and so my plans are fairly minimal. I’m looking forward to time off work between Xmas and New Year more than anything.

  3. I totally understand you. I’ve had to email a few people and tell them that I wasn’t taking any more commitments this year. You have to make time to take care of yourself. I am sitting here surrounded by moving boxes with a headache and sore throat just trying to relax a little.

    1. Jess

      Good on your for saying no, that can be really hard to do!

  4. I love the idea of really enjoying the season, taking the time to do that, to not only create memories for our kids, but really enjoy those moments too. For me, that’s a form self care.

    1. Jess

      Exactly, that’s what I think Christmas is all about-making nice memories. And a stressed out time is not the kind of memories to make!

  5. With our family in the UK, Christmas is a relatively quiet and calm affair. That said, these are awesome tips and I love the idea of a no list. I’m totally getting on to that!

    1. Jess

      I think we can always learn to take it down a notch and focus on what brings us joy!

  6. I love your advice! It has come just at the right time. December is so full of commitments. I NEED to look after myself x

  7. I LOVE your first point. It makes it easier to say no when you’ve already considered what you might be asked to do and decided not to, rather than waiting and then saying yes because you’re caught in surprise. #teamIBOT

    1. Jess

      Yes, so true! Most of the time I say yes and regret it, is because I have been caught off guard. Even pausing and saying ‘Can I get back to you on that?’ is a great strategy.

  8. Self-care – nourishing myself more deeply than I usually do – is top of my holiday coping list this year. I can already feel the difference it’s making.

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