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Avoid Holiday Burnout

You can feel peaceful and rested now ...

The reason we experience holiday burnout has less to do with the tasks the holidays add to our schedules and more to do with the fact that day-to-day, most of us live without any margins. We plan each day until it is bursting at the seams and still, we run out of time. If we handled our finances the way we handle our time we would all be in bankruptcy court.


What would it look like to live with margins and what kinds of margins are considered healthy?

If you planned your day with margins you would intentionally leave a certain amount of time each day unscheduled. For example, when I schedule my workday, I only schedule five hours per day. This leaves me with two hours of “margins,” time available for unexpected tasks, new opportunities or much needed rest and relaxation. Margins give me a feeling of space in my day. Just knowing I have space makes my stress go down.


It wasn’t always this way for me. I used to schedule every minute of my time, trying to squeeze as much juice as possible out of each day. I felt as-if I was in a race to the finish line and too often I was caught unprepared by last minute demands that I had no time for. I know I’m stating the obvious here, but I didn’t perform at my best under these conditions. A too tight schedule with no margins. Not smart.


Now if we add the holidays into a life with no margins it’s easy to see how it can quickly turn into a crisis. How do we get everything done? Where will the time and energy come from? What’s supposed to be fun (visiting with family) becomes stressful because we’re now squeezing more stuff into an already overfilled schedule. Instead of sleeping six hours you find the “extra” time by sleeping four. Tired turns into exhausted.


Let’s begin to handle this now. Stop and take a few slow breaths. Allow your body to feel calm and centered. You’re going to take a look at what you have going on and yes, I’m going to ask you to put some things on hold. Everything you want to get done is not an actual emergency. Look at the things that are clearly “wants” as in, “I want to get that finished,” (but you really could wait). Go ahead and schedule it for January. Put as many things as you can on the docket for the new year. Voila, you have created margins to help you get through the rest of the holidays.

This is a critical moment. You just created precious margins that will give you much needed space. So you need a process for making decisions because one thing we know for sure, people are going to keep making requests and demands. You must have a way to assess these demands or in a blink of your eye all your margins will be gone.


Let’s go back to relationship 101. All relationships are based on shared responsibilities. These shared responsibilities keep our relationships healthy, fresh and alive. For example, you and your best friend share the responsibility of making sure you stay in touch, see each other on a regular basis and clear up any misunderstandings that may occasionally arise. As long as both of you honor these agreements, you will feel happy with the friendship. If you find, over time, that you are doing all the reaching out and planning, you might start to feel disgruntled. Your friend is not handling her end of the relationship.


All relationships, whether it’s friendships, spouses, family members or work colleagues have spoken, and unspoken agreements and expectations. We “expect” someone to be responsible and when they aren’t, we get upset. It doesn’t feel fair. Unless we can talk this out, the relationship is headed for problems.


So how does this help us in our decision-making process during the holidays? A family member asks you to make your signature dish for Christmas dinner. This recipe takes a lot of time and energy. If you agree to make it, there go your margins. And, more importantly, you don’t want to make it. How do you decide what your responsibility is to this family member?


First, pause. When asked to do something, don’t make a decision in the moment. A quick decision will likely result in a “yes” that you will regret later. Instead, always respond with the six magic words, “Let me get back to you.” Take some quiet time and get real with yourself. If you agree to make this dish, what impact will it have on your life? Don’t minimize or deny the impact. Be honest. Can you follow through without frustration, resentment or exhaustion creeping in? Is your desire to say “yes” really a secret attempt to avoid guilt?


Next, consider this relationship. Have you asked this person for lots of big favors in the past? Has he or she always come through for you cheerfully? In other words, are these kinds of requests one of the unspoken agreements in your relationship?


If it is part of your relationship with each other to do big special favors, you do have a responsibility to either, 1) make the dish, or 2) have an honest conversation with this person to help him or her understand why you need to say “no.” If this is not part of your ongoing relationship with this person, you can politely decline without any guilt. Let them know what you will bring and then go on with your day (and keep your margins!).


As you go through the rest of the holiday season with your margins in place, practice self-awareness. Notice what benefits you receive. How do you feel mentally? Is your mind quiet and focused? Next, check in emotionally. Are you feeling more peaceful? Are you enjoying your relationships? And finally, check in physically. How are your energy levels? Are you sleeping better?

The stress that gets added to a life with no margins is substantial. The simple act of adding in margins can be life changing. Get in the habit of adding them in all the time. If you think something will take 30 minutes, plan an hour. Overestimate the time for everything and create “margins on the go.” You, and your relationships, will love you for it as the added time will bring you more joy and less stress.

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Anne Marie Clear is a Speaker, Trainer, and Coach. She has worked with leaders and world-class scientists for over twenty years in the areas of stress management, living from true authenticity, and building lasting relationships. 

Anne Marie Clear

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