Do You Have “Christmas Burnout”? Many People Do!
Christmas burnout is a psychological reality, as /a-midlife-transitions well know. Many people experience it. It happens on a number of levels at the same time.
Christmas and the Holidays are a time of very high expectations, in a number of different ways. Traditionally in the western world, Christmas is regarded as the most significant and joyous season. It was loaded with deep religious meaning for our ancestors, and for a significant number of people, it still is.
In addition to this heavy freight of religious meaning, Christmas is also regarded as loaded with very special meaning for family life. It’s expected to be a time when families connect in a unfailing, unfaltering way to each other, and love, joy and peace abound. There should be that “special Christmas feeling”, and there should be no conflict or sadness, anywhere in sight.
At least that’s the set of expectations that we continually absorb from the television, movies, music, product marketing, eggnog lattes and endless other Holiday-related messaging that fills our culture at this time of year. It’s easy to be influenced by this, consciously and unconsciously, and drawn into carrying a huge set of expectations, almost before we know it.
Holiday Expectations and Realities
Everyone knows that the holidays are “supposed” to be a time of joyous celebration and connection with family, but they can also be an immense source of stress as we try to meet that expectation, depending on what we are dealing with in our lives. Those who have lost an important loved one, or those who may be dealing with a separation or with realities such as job loss can find this time of year very challenging, and extremely stressful. But many who are not facing this kind of major life transition can also find the holidays very challenging.
For many people, just the process of getting together with family members can be a very demanding thing that is full of anxiety. Socializing with family members when there might be personality conflicts, outstanding issues, or great political differences can be a very sizable stressor. In my own family’s case, I can remember deep political divisions between family members causing many a stormy “Merry Christmas” in my youth!
Stuck in the Rut of Overwhelming Expectations
One of the most difficult things about the holidays, and something that can contribute most directly to Christmas burnout is the way that we “should” or “ought” on ourselves about what this season must be. It can be easy to get locked into a lot of rigid, painful patterns, because we have our inner voices that tell us that “It’s GOT to be this way, or it won’t really feel like Christmas.” or “This is the traditional way that our family / church / culture celebrates the holidays.” or “What would everybody else think, if we did something other than XYZ?”
To put it bluntly, there might be a whole lot less Christmas burnout if we stopped focusing on meeting the collective expectations around the holidays, and focused on what might be meaningful for ourselves as individuals. What if we listened to our inner voices around what might be valuable, healing and hope-creating at this time of year, and let ourselves off the hook about how we’re not being enough in someone or other’s eyes. Might it be that we would find ways to make our holiday season much more Self-directed in the best sense of the word?
Finding Our Own Way
In the second part of this post, I’ll be focusing on some suggestions for ways to keep the holidays that emphasize our own needs and personalities, rather than what other people, the groups we belong to, and our culture as a whole culture expects. Jungians would emphasize that it can be an important part of our individuation journey to keep the holidays in ways that retain meaning for our own real lives.
The key to avoiding Christmas burnout begins in a place of self-acceptance and self-compassion.
TO BE CONTINUED…