If you’re anything like us, your diary between now and 2022 is probably starting to look pretty full.
Office parties, family gatherings, ‘Friendsmas’ dinners, festive cocktails – the scramble to see everyone during the most wonderful time of the year is in full swing. And we are completely out of practice.
Last year, Christmas was a flop. Party season just didn’t happen because of lockdown. In fact, you would have been lucky if you even made it back to your home town in time for the big day.
The best part of the last two years has been pretty much devoid of anything even remotely resembling a party, let alone an entire season of festive fun.
So, if the sudden return to full-on sequins, mulled wine and mid-week socialising has got you feeling a little bit anxious – that’s understandable.
Going from 0-100 is stressful. You might be experiencing a kind of preemptive exhaustion at even the thought of weeks brimming with plans, and the last thing you want to do is push yourself too hard. It’s supposed to be fun, after all.
So, it’s important to know your party season limits and set some boundaries so you can avoid festive burnout.
Why are Christmas parties making us anxious this year?
‘Everyone has got used to a slower pace of life and socialising,’ says Dr Nicky Hartigan, a clinical psychologist at HelloSelf.
‘So, whereas being busy, running on empty, seeing lots of people, dressing up, making an effort and chatting was “normal” pre-Covid, they now represent a change and something out of the ordinary.’
It’s this change in the norm that is making us feel more anxious than normal. We are creatures of habit, and our current habit is staying at home in her pyjamas.
‘For some, this anxiety will be fleeting concerns which are easily managed, for others it will be a bigger issue and have the potential to create some degree of stress or distress,’ says Nicky.
‘Additionally of course, people have the worry of whether partying and mixing with lots of people will lead them to catch Covid and become unwell. Again, for some this may present a significant challenge.’
Mental health expert Sarah Cannon from Living Well UK adds that there is also the pressure of trying to do too much at once, and fit every single social plan into a very limited time frame.
‘We may feel an added pressure of not wanting to let others down who may be excited to share a part of the festive season with us,’ says Sarah. ‘What’s more, we may not be as used to socialising as we were pre-pandemic, maybe our interests have changed and we are worried about how others may respond to this.‘
What are the signs of Christmas party burnout?
‘You might notice that you’re feeling more tired in your everyday life, or having difficulties sleeping,’ says Sarah. ‘You might also find worries and fears about your next social event may be becoming the focal point for your thoughts, or you may find yourself wishing to withdraw more from others and feeling emotionally quite drained.‘
Nicky adds that coming up with ways to try to get out of plans is a telltale sign that you’re overdoing it socially.
‘Finding yourself coming up with reasons to avoid social situations, not because of fear or anxiety, but because you don’t want to,’ says Nicky.
‘This could be because you are out of practice and so socialising takes more effort and energy, but it may also be that having stepped back from the frenetic pace of modern-life due to Covid, you have reassessed how you want to spend your time- maybe for you, less is more.’
How to cope if you’re feeling overwhelmed with party season
- Think about what is important to you. What do you value during this time? Maybe it is spending time with loved ones, maybe it is helping others, maybe it is time relaxing. Whatever it is, choose to do things that align with these values.
- Ensure you take time out for yourself. It can be all too easy to get swept away in what we feel we “should” be doing at Christmas. All the places and people we “should” be seeing. Ensuring that we are rested and feeling at our best will help us to be more present when we do go out and socialise.
- Talk to others. Take time to talk to others about how you feel. This may mean speaking up about important boundaries or talking about how you’re feeling with someone that you trust. Being open ensures we are communicating our needs at this time and allows for others to support us.
Sarah Cannon, Living Well UK
Burnout and exhaustion should not be taken lightly. Pushing yourself too hard can not only result in having less fun at Christmas parties and feeling unenthusiastic, it can impact your overall mental wellbeing, your relationships, your performance at work and your physical health.
So, if you are aware of these early signs of burnout, it’s important to react to them – and make some changes.
‘Don’t panic about feeling anxiety,’ says Nicky. ‘It is perfectly normal given the last two years, to have mixed feelings and some reservations about socialising (even if you were previously a party fanatic).
‘We have all been confronted with a huge, unexpected and unwelcome event and acknowledging and validating the fears and concerns this brings is key here.’
Nicky suggests that you ask yourself a series of questions to help you understand your fears – and identify a course of action.
‘What am I worried will happen? Can I survive this if it did happen? Who or what can help me to deal with this situation? What skills, knowledge and resources do I have to help me cope? How important is this to me?’
Sarah adds that it is completely normal to feel overwhelmed at this time of year: ‘There is often a pressure at Christmas that we “should” feel a certain way and this isn’t always the case. However you feel about the Christmas period is valid.‘
How to set boundaries during party season
When you have too many things going on it can be hard to know where to draw the line.
Saying ‘no’ can be difficult. You don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, or have regrets about not going and get FOMO. But making careful decisions about the things you commit to can make a huge difference in helping you feel less stressed.
‘Decide what matters to you most on a case-by-case basis,’ says Nicky.
‘Sometimes seeing a friend or attending a party when you don’t feel like it, in order to nurture a friendship will be important. Other times, saying “no” will be the right thing for you.
‘Being honest with yourself (and friends and family) about your thoughts and feelings will help. You may find alternative ways to nurture friendships, you may find others feel similarly and that your fears about upsetting people are unfounded.’
Sarah says you have to work out what is most important to you during this period.
‘Maybe you have a limit on the amount of money you are willing to spend, or time you want to go out for, or indeed who you want to see,’ she says.
‘Once you have a clear idea of what your boundaries are, it is important to communicate this calmly, clearly and in a respectful way to the people that this may impact.’
She adds that it’s also important to be realistic with yourself and accept that you may feel uncomfortable setting the boundary.
‘However, reminding yourself how you will feel if you don’t and the reasons as to why this boundary are important to you, can be helpful. This is your way of self-care. You cannot control other people’s reactions to your boundary setting, but you can control how you relay the boundary to others.’
In terms of FOMO, Sarah says it is definitely possible to reframe this in your mind.
‘It can be helpful to think of it in this way: If you are saying “no” to something, it means that you are saying “yes” to something else that is important to you, even if that is rest and recuperation,’ she explains.
‘There will always be consequences with our choices, but there will be benefits too. It is important to remember that we are in control of what we choose to do or not do.
‘It is our choice and we are choosing to act in line with what is important to us.’
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