'Tis the season for packed social calendars and demanding work deadlines – but that’s no reason to forget the holiday cheer
The holidays are fast approaching and between the myriad of holiday activities and those end-of-year deadlines, it can be easy to feel burnt out. However, keeping up with all the demands doesn’t have to drain you of your holiday cheer – and if it does, there are steps you can take to be able to breathe a little.
Take South Korea, for instance, as though being ranked the world’s most overworked nation by the OECD isn’t enough, a recent poll by an online recruitment company found that eight in 10 South Koreans feel more stressed at the end of the year.
A quarter of the respondents said the stress roots from feeling like they have not achieved enough in the year, while others cited financial pressure from overspending, as well as frequent end-year meetings and drinking sessions.
Leading surgeon Dr Shawn C. Jones, MD, FACS, told us it could be a number of reasons why a season known for merriment, which should indicate a winding-down of the year could make people feel even more stressed.
“The holidays certainly have the potential to help us reconnect with people and traditions that play an important part in our lives,” he said. “However, the festivities related to the holiday season also brings a myriad of potential logistical and interpersonal difficulties.”
“In addition, our expectations of the holidays are often much brighter and festive than the reality of the season as it unfolds,” he said. “All of these factors produce additional stress and can provide us with a sense of disappointment, loss or a feeling of unmet expectations which will tend to lean toward burnout.”
How to spot signs of trouble
Dr Jones, who is no stranger to burnout himself, shared its thus crucial to pay attention to your well-being and not get complacent even during the holiday season. The leading head and neck surgeon also took a while to realise he was suffering from burnout – after spending several years completing his residency, he only noticed the signs after performing his first few surgeries.
Here are his tips for recognising holiday burnout:
1. There is a pervasive feeling you are overextended
There is a feeling of being drained, overwhelmed and exhausted by familial obligations. You are just as tired in the morning as you were when you went to bed. You feel as though you can’t take on one more dinner invite, holiday project or any other requests.
2. You have a distant or cold outlook towards activities
You can feel distant or cold towards your family and friends. You may feel it is safer to be indifferent while at a holiday party and develop an extreme cynicism.
3. You feel ineffective while at parties or with family and friends
You have somehow lost confidence at parties or events. You feel inadequate. It has become difficult to think positively about the holidays. You do not feel a sense of personal accomplishment in your work.
4. You experience an erosion of emotions
There may be a tendency to blame others for problems or difficulties and react to situations and individuals with anger or even rage.
5. You engage in unusual or high-risk behaviour
These behaviours may result in disciplining before a professional board or organisation, for example DUIs, an arrest or even suicidal ideation. Illicit drug use, alcoholism, a suicide attempt or an episode of depression or anxiety can be a sign of burnout.
Bouncing back to your happier self
After recognising burnout, it is important to look into ways to reduce work-related stress and increase your all-round resilience, said Dr Jones. It could start with being radically honest with yourself and developing a mindfulness practice.
“Social psychologist Christine Maslach described burnout as ‘an erosion of the soul’,” he said. “The symptoms of emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation, and loss of a sense of accomplishment can be treated, but, at its root, burnout reveals a soul in search of itself.”
Hence, he suggests plucking yourself out of a state of “busyness”. Being or acting constantly busy is often a subconscious attempt at distracting yourself from being present, he explained.
You can then adopt techniques or practices to allow yourself to develop presence in a way that can promote healing, reduce any feelings of stress and anxiety, as well as promote a sense of acceptance of your surroundings.
He then added that attempts to run from or hide your true feelings about the current situation will simply complicate your struggles and lead to further stress.
“It is critical to be honest with yourself,” he said. “Emotional exhaustion from burnout can lead to a denial of what one is feeling: ‘that didn’t hurt’ or ‘I am not angry’ are what we often say to avoid the vulnerability of the truth.
“We defend against how we really feel and end up living in desperation. We lose heart. When we are able to acknowledge that the experience is one of loneliness, fear or sadness, the expressions of our feelings, needs, longings and desires will lead to a fuller life.”
And after all that self-acceptance, it could also be helpful to reach out to your supervisor or someone at work. But this step should only be taken after some serious self-reflection.
He acknowledged that approaching a supervisor or boss with issues regarding work-related stress can be stress-inducing itself, which is why you need to approach them with clarity of mind so that they can in turn help you in some way.
“It is imperative that you have a good idea about the origin of the [work-related] stress and have ideas regarding potential solutions before approaching a supervisor,” he said.
“Do you need a break from a particular aspect of your work? Do you need to just take time off? […] Each of these problems would require a different solution. Some of these issues would be easier to address with your boss than others.
“Approach your boss in a spirit of cooperation and with a sense of humility, and be frank about your perception of the problem as well how it may be affecting others as well.”