The holidays can feel like a minefield if you’re stressed. Between events for work and school, gatherings with friends and family, fancy dinners to cook, and gifts to buy, what’s supposed to be a time of peace and joy can feel like anything but.

My husband’s demanding career and my own struggle with a stress condition mean that we’ve had our share of overwhelming holiday seasons. Luckily, as the years have passed, we’ve figured out some simple strategies to make the holidays work for us—and they can work for you too.

However, before we get into the tips and tricks for a stress-free holiday, we have to tackle one serious subject first. This one thing can make or break a holiday season and is crucial to the success of your plans.

The most important, pivotal factor for a burnout-free Christmas…is you.

You love your family, and you care deeply about making their lives joyful, especially at this time of year. And you also care about your business and want to keep it running smoothly.

But what about you? When was the last time you made helping yourself a priority? 

Taking time for yourself may feel like you’re taking away from other people (trust me, I understand). But the fact is that you can give more when your bucket is full than you can when it’s empty.  

And that means that meeting your own needs is the most important thing you can do for other people, especially during the holidays.

It took a major crash from stress (OK, fine, more than one) for me to finally realize that the best way to care for my husband and family was to care for myself. It feels counterintuitive, but it’s true.

Have you heard of the airplane analogy?

If you’re on an airplane with your kids and there’s an emergency that causes the oxygen masks to drop down, whose do you put on first?

Your impulse is probably to take care of your kids first, but no. Before anything else, you put on your own mask. 

There’s an excellent reason for this: If you don’t take care of yourself first, you may pass out, and then your kids are on their own. Which, obviously, is the last thing you want in this situation.

What does this have to do with the holidays?

The holidays involve a ton of extra obligations, errands, and expectations. It’s a wonderful time of year…but when you’re in it, it can be easy to lose sight of what’s really important:

Your physical and mental well-being.

TO PREVENT OR MANAGE BURNOUT DURING THE HOLIDAYS, KEEP THINGS SIMPLE   

This time of year, we try to keep things as simple as we can.

I know that sounds impossible. It feels like you should just say yes to every invitation or request for help because that’s “just how things should be done during the holidays”—and you feel guilty if you don’t.  

Well, I am giving you permission to stop doing that. This trick has taken the guilt out of picking and choosing which commitments to accept and which to decline:

When we’re considering an invitation or an obligation, we ask ourselves one question: If I say yes to this, what am I saying no to?

For example, if I say YES to meeting my long-time friends one evening during the holidays, I am saying NO to other things including:

Rest

Getting enough sleep

Time with my kids and husband

Having the energy to make it to my kids concert the next night

Time to get what I need done for the holidays

Reframing the question like this will help you figure out what’s most important to you and which invitations or requests you should politely decline, or at least request to reschedule to another day/time/month.

Keep it in mind because it’s useful for the next strategy as well.

Brain Dump

This is one of my favorite exercises to decrease my overwhelm at any time of year.  I do it regularly in my business and personal life, and my husband does it any time he has a block of days off. This is my version for the holidays:

Sit with a paper and a pen.  Make three columns and write down everything you can think of in each one. 

  1. Things to do this month – This includes everything from cleaning the house, groceries, meal prep and other regular tasks, to buying what presents for whom, prepping for a party or family visitors, and anything else you can think of. Don’t forget kids’ concerts and school breaks.
  2. People you plan on seeing this month
  3. Events/social gatherings that you have been invited to

Now take your list of things to do from column 1 and divide it into 3 categories:

  1. Things you have to do
  2. Things that need to be done, but that you can delegate/hire out
  3. Things you don’t have to do

Move on to columns 2 and 3. Use the reframing trick on any invitation or obligation. Remember your priorities and what you’re saying YES or NO to.

Really sit and think about this, especially if you are someone who tends to take on a lot yourself.

Some examples:

Are you hosting people over the holidays? Is it possible to hire a cleaning service the day before to give you an extra full or half day to do other things?

If you are hosting a holiday dinner, are there tasks you can delegate or schedule to be done? Maybe have a potluck with everyone contributing a dish?  

Can you create a grocery list and pre-order it now so that it can be delivered the day you need it, saving you time shopping? Can you order pre-made food to be delivered? Or is take out an option?

I know tradition is the gold standard this time of year, but don’t be afraid to change it up. You might be pleasantly surprised! Get creative!

Make it easy on yourself

Shop online now and have everything arrive at your doorstep without having to travel from store to store.

Schedule play dates with your kids’ friends over the holidays or sign them up for camps now so you have more time to rest or run last-minute errands. 

If you can figure out a way to delegate a task, ask family or neighbours for help, or hire out, this is the time to do it. Don’t get trapped in the “Got to do it all myself” mentality.

Once you have your to-do list sorted, look at your calendar.

Add in the invites you are going to accept. Realistically (I repeat, realistically) schedule in when you’ll do the tasks that you have to do.  And schedule time to delegate the tasks that you can farm out.

If your calendar still looks too overwhelming, see if there are more things you can ask for help with or simplify. Are there any invites that you feel would be best to decline? Were you completely honest with yourself when you did the reframing exercise? Maybe try it again.

Keep tweaking your list until it doesn’t overwhelm you.

Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box. 

We’ve already talked about turning a large dinner party to an informal potluck, but there’s another way to lighten your load this holiday season:

Can you move some things to January and in the future maybe plan some events for other months?

This is a big one for us.

We celebrate Christmas, but my parents are snowbirds (they leave Canada and go south where it’s sunny for 6 months every year). They leave in early November, so we celebrate Christmas with my side of the family in October. It’s so much fun! 

My mom is cleaning out her fridge for the winter, so she makes soups and stews and whatever else she can come up with, and that’s our Christmas dinner. Then when we leave, we fill our coolers with cooked meals and empty out her freezer.  

Buying presents in October isn’t as stressful, we carve pumpkins, and we sometimes get to play in snow. We all love it.   

And it keeps paying off, too. On Christmas Day we don’t have to travel from house to house, visiting. We spend Dec. 25 cozily at home with our gifts and each other.

Our kids love that we celebrate Christmas in October and December. Who wouldn’t want to have Christmas twice?

You can do this too.

One of the perks of owning your own business is setting your own schedule. Who says you have to have a Christmas party? Work gatherings can be any time of year.  Maybe next year you can change it up: how about a summer BBQ or a casual potluck to brighten your February?

And that’s really all there is to it! When you’re heading into this holiday season, commit to trying these simple strategies for managing stress and preventing burnout:

Take care of yourself first, guilt-free (you heard me).

Reframe your to-dos and only say YES to what you absolutely want to.

Delegate, reschedule, and reinvent unapologetically.  

Get creative with your traditions and change them up to make them work for you.  

If you’re finding that the stress of your career is taking its toll on your wellbeing and causing issues like sleep disruption, brain fog, digestive issues, anxiety, or depression, know that you’re not alone.

Burnout and overwhelm are incredibly common, but it’s possible to reverse your symptoms and get back to feeling rested, calm, and nourished.

If that sounds like a hell yes to you, click the link below. My 4 Part FREE Video Training can help you:

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Discover why one-size-fits-all solutions often don’t work

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My mission is to help you kick burnout’s ass—and this is the place to start.


Andi Clark is known for her success and expertise as an Optimal Performance Coach. With over 30 years of experience coaching Entrepreneurs, Venture Capitalists, CEO’s and and other C-Suite Professionals focusing on maximizing their energy, focus and making sure they are strong enough to withstand all the stress thrown at them each and every day so they can remain calm in the chaos.

In every businesses collecting the right data helps us know where we need to pivot and adjust in order to improve our ROI.  Guessing has us wasting time and money decreasing our ability to grow and scale.    

Achieving Optimal Performance should be treated the same. A one size fits all program will never give YOU what YOUR body needs in order to reach your performance goals.

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