Feeling Overwhelmed This Holiday Season?

“There is so much going on right now,” “It is all too much,” “There is a lot.” Does this sound like something you’re thinking as we head into the holiday season? As you look at the calendar for the upcoming month (or so), does it seem like you have so much to do and so little time to do it? Are you finding yourself getting into arguments with your partner, family, friends, or strangers on the Internet much more frequently than usual? If this sounds like you, please know that you are not alone. Many of us are having similar experiences this year as the holidays approach.

Before diving into the 5 tips to minimize feelings of overwhelm and make it through the holiday season unscathed, let’s define “feeling overwhelmed” and make sense of what might be going on with these feelings. 

What Does it Mean to Be Overwhelmed?

“Feeling overwhelmed” can look different for each person, and there is not one specific thing that can trigger this feeling. For example, one way to understand what this feeling is like is to picture being in the ocean on a day when the waves are really high. It would be very difficult to do this, and it is likely that the waves would completely engulf you.

This is similar to what overwhelm feels like – trying to stay standing as you are facing wave after wave of stress and challenges. Typically, someone begins to “feel overwhelmed” when life stressors become too great to manage with the resources they have.

What has contributed to being overwhelmed?

Lots of things can contribute to someone feeling overwhelmed. One reason that many of us may be feeling overwhelmed lately could be connected to COVID. Many of us have experienced (and continue to experience) ongoing stress, fear, and other strong emotions related to COVID. Along with this, there have been ongoing racial tensions in the US and throughout the world. Many of us have experienced isolation from friends and loved ones during this time, in addition to feelings of grief and loss due to having lost friends and loved ones to COVID or other illnesses. 

Additionally, many of us have been wading through grief and loss as a result of missed events through the past 20 months – birthdays, graduations, births, deaths, weddings, travels, and more. Many of us have been waiting for life to “get back to normal,” but are not sure what “normal” looks like anymore. Given all of this (and likely more!), it is completely understandable that you might be feeling overwhelmed.

stress burnout

Overwhelmed or Something Else?

If these feelings of overwhelm have been going on for an extended period of time, and if you are beginning to feel disengaged from certain areas of life, it is possible that something else, like burnout, may be going on. Burnout can be thought of as emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged, consistent periods of stress. Burnout used to be mostly connected to job-related situations, particularly high-stress jobs. Although those in high-stress jobs are often more susceptible to burnout, in reality, anyone who is consistently exposed to stressful situations can develop burnout. From this perspective, we could certainly make a case that going through the COVID-19 pandemic, and everything associated with it, has been a long-term stressful situation. Because of this, it would make sense that those feelings of overwhelm have developed into feeling burned out.

Symptoms of Burnout

Burnout can affect all areas of your life, including physical, mental and emotional, spiritual, and relationships with others. So, what does burnout look like and how is it different from feeling overwhelmed?

Let’s first look at some of the symptoms of feeling overwhelmed:

  • Feel emotions intensely
  • Lots of worrying
  • Increased attempts to get things “under control”
  • Overreacting to things that typically would not bother you
  • Urgent need to “fix” it (whatever “it” might be)

Feeling overwhelmed often has energy behind it. Something in life feels “out of control” or “feels like a lot” and you try to do something to fix the problem.

Remember the definition of burnout from above? Sometimes feeling overwhelmed in multiple areas of life over an extended period of time can lead to burnout. Often when people begin to feel burned out, they experience a general lack of energy. People experiencing burnout begin to isolate themselves more and more, which increases feelings of loneliness and isolation. This loneliness and isolation then increases feelings of burnout and overwhelm, and the vicious cycle continues. 

Take a look at the lists below to find out about more symptoms of burnout:

Mental/Emotional Symptoms: 

  • feeling overwhelmed
  • exhausted
  • irritable
  • depressionoverwhelmed this holiday
  • anxiety
  • isolation
  • apathy
  • feeling disengaged
  • increased use of escape coping (e.g., drugs, alcohol, food, over-exercise)
  • thoughts of escaping on a solo vacation
  • feeling numb/unable to feel your feelings

Physical Symptoms: 

  • headaches
  • stomach problems
  • changes in appetite or sleep
  • increased susceptibility to illness

Relationship Symptoms:

  • isolation
  • feeling disconnected from yourself, friends, family, community

**Please note, these lists are not exhaustive and should not be used to self-diagnose burnout in yourself or others. Additionally, these lists are not a substitution for medical or mental health care. 

Notice that one of the symptoms of burnout is “feeling overwhelmed.” Sometimes, feeling overwhelmed can just be a sign that it is time to make some shifts in the areas of life where you are feeling overwhelmed. Other times, especially when the feelings of overwhelm are accompanied by some of the other symptoms listed above, it can be a sign that something more is going on, like burnout or depression.

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burnout help

What to do?

Unfortunately, there is no quick fix for burnout. But, this does not mean that there is nothing you can do about it. Often fixing overwhelm starts with making small changes consistently, and over time, the feelings of overwhelm will slowly get less and less.

Now that you know a bit more about burnout, what it looks like, and how it can be connected to feeling overwhelmed, continue reading below to learn more about how to fight it this holiday season.

5 Tips to Manage Feeling Overwhelmed This Holiday Season

1. Connect with Others

As humans, we are meant to have meaningful connections with others. When feeling overwhelmed, it is common to isolate or not attend social gatherings as a way to reduce these feelings. It is important to know your limits and know how to say “no” when you are feeling over-extended (see the next two tips), but if you are noticing yourself even isolating yourself from people you used to enjoy hanging out with, this may be a sign that you need to intentionally spend some time connecting with others. holiday connection

This does not have to be anything big, and you do not even need to leave your house. 

Here are some ideas:

  • Invite one friend over and have a deep conversation
  • Spend 20 minutes talking with your partner before turning on the TV
  • Call a family member or friend who you have not seen in a while and reconnect with them

These types of connections give meaning to life and can help fight those feelings of overwhelm and loneliness.

2. Set Boundaries

Sometimes when we feel overwhelmed, it is because we are overcommitted. Right now, you might feel like you need to do all the things because last year there were many more limitations to what you could do. This could certainly contribute to feeling overwhelmed, especially if you have gotten used to life moving at a little slower pace or having fewer obligations throughout the pandemic. Take some time to think about what events really matter to you this holiday season, then practice saying “no” to the ones that are less important. 

Here are some examples of boundaries that you might set this holiday season:

  • “Thank you so much for the invitation to that event. Unfortunately, I can’t attend this time.”
  • “No, thank you.”
  • “Please do not comment on my body/my fertility/my parenting.”
  • “I would love to see you over the holidays, but can only meet for 1 hour for coffee.”

Want to know more about how to set effective boundaries? Check out our blog post on setting boundaries here.

3. Communicate Openly

No one is a mind reader. Those close to you may be able to guess that you are overwhelmed, but no one will know how you are really feeling unless you tell them. And expecting someone to read your mind or guess how you’re feeling will often result in you not getting your needs met. Over time, this can increase your sense of isolation and loneliness.

So in order to have this conversation, first, prepare yourself. Think about who you might want to know about how you’re feeling – maybe your partner or a close friend. Next, think about what you would want them to know; make some notes if that would be helpful. Finally, settle yourself (e.g., deep breaths, listening to soothing music). And then start talking. 

Here is a sample script of how to communicate your feelings in a straightforward way:

“As things are getting busier this holiday season, I am feeling more and more overwhelmed. I would really appreciate it if we can look at our schedules and decide together what events are most important. Can you help me with this?”

Notice the general structure of this statement:

“When (situation)…. I feel (emotion word)… I need (make a request)…”

 Open communication is the key to letting others know how you feel, getting your needs met, and setting clear boundaries. For more on the benefits of healthy communication, see our blog post on healthy communication. 

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Click here to check out our therapist created Ultimate Communication Toolkit!!

4. Get Outside

Although this may seem like such a small thing, there are so many health benefits associated with going outside. Spending as little as 5 minutes a day outside can help improve sleep, reduce anxiety and depression, increase immunity by increasing Vitamin D and lowering blood pressure and inflammation, and improve self-esteem.

Getting outside is essential to emotional health balance, too (see this blog on improving emotional health), and if you are feeling overwhelmed or burned out, spending some time outside every day can help.

Some Ideas for Getting Outside:

Because getting outside is so important for your mental health, even if you only feel up to sitting outside for 5-10 minutes or taking a slow walk around your block, doing this at least a few times per week will help reduce your feelings of overwhelm.

Want to read more about the physical and mental health benefits of going outside? See this WebMD article on the benefits of nature.

5. Improve Sleep Hygiene

And feeling overwhelmed can also impact sleep. This includes whether you are getting too much sleep, or not enough. Getting poor quality sleep or not enough sleep can impact your ability to deal with situations without becoming easily overwhelmed. Working to improve your sleep habits can help you sleep better at night. This can help improve your resilience to stressful situations and help you feel less overwhelmed.

Curious about how to improve your sleep hygiene? Check out our blog post on sleep hygiene by clicking here.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, using some of these tips can help you feel less overwhelmed and more able to enjoy this holiday season. If you would like additional support with how to overcome feeling overwhelmed or burned out, our therapists here at Estes Therapy would love to work with you! Schedule an appointment today!

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It’s been nearly 20 years since I first became interested in studying psychotherapy. I began practicing the scientific approaches to psychotherapy in 1997 and I was hooked from then on.

I earned my Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family psychotherapy in 2004 and I am currently licensed as a Marriage and Family Therapist MFT (LMFT#47653) with the Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS).

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