10 Smart Ways to Protect Your Peace This Holiday SeasonAre you saying yes to literally every holiday event? Yeah, don’t.
Between running errands, showing face at holiday parties, scheduling hangouts with friends you might not have seen in a while, and going to family gatherings, this time of year can feel like a lot. A whole lot. A massive lot. And if you’re not protecting your peace, or taking care of yourself and setting boundaries that keep you from feeling overwhelmed, holiday social exhaustion could be in your future. Womp.
For the uninitiated, social exhaustion happens when you’ve socialized to the point where you’re physically tired and mentally drained, says licensed clinical psychologist Helen Odessky, PsyD, author of Stop Anxiety from Stopping You. And, no, it’s not just a thing that happens to those who need alone time to recharge (hey, introverts!). Anyone who doesn’t meet their ideal alone–time-to-people-time ratio, which is different for everyone, is at risk of social burnout.
Ahead, you’ll find expert-backed tips for fending off the fatigue along with what’s worked for people who’ve protected their own peace during the holiday season. Look at you thriving out there this year!
1. Don’t say yes to everything.
When someone invites you to their Thanksgiving Eve game night, it might seem risky to turn them down. We have these “overblown fears” that people will think we don’t like them, that we don’t care about our relationships, or that we’re not fun or helpful, says social psychologist and Cornell University professor Vanessa Bohns, PhD, author of You Have More Influence Than You Think. We're wired to be agreeable, we often don’t want to stop being invited to things, and we think if we say no to certain asks that it’ll bite us later, she explains. But research actually suggests that we really do overestimate the negative consequences of saying no, Dr. Bohns says.
Plus, research also suggests that it’s common to think people are doing more social things than we are. In reality, though, that’s usually not the case. And thinking that others’ social lives are busier than ours piles unneeded pressure on, notes Dr. Bohns.
Nina P., 35, tells Wondermind that she’ll let herself cancel plans if she gets busy because “the right ones will stick around and understand.” Chances are, your friends will still be your friends and your neighbor down the street probably won’t think you’re a horrible person for not giving them a hand with their Christmas lights. So look back at how much you said yes to in the past and if it led to burnout—then plan what you want to say no to accordingly, suggests Dr. Odessky.
2. Say no, but make it nice.
A simple “no” is 100% OK too, says Dr. Bohns, but if that’s awkward for you, literally just blame the holidays as an excuse to kindly decline. If you’re still feeling weird about it, thank them for the invite and say something like, “I can’t right now, but please keep letting me know about these things!” Dr. Bohns suggests. You can also offer to hang out later on, she adds.
3. Write down things you have to do.
It’s easier to RSVP no when you have a running list of what you’ve already said yes to (or want to say yes to). “If your calendar starts giving you hives because you look at it and you go, ‘I don't know how I'm gonna do all these things,’ that's a good sign that you need to pull back,” says Dr. Odessky.
4. Give yourself time to make a decision.
Making decisions on the spot puts a lot of pressure on a person. “When we feel like we don't have time to mindfully think about what we want to do, our default is to just agree,” so then we start saying yes more than we’d like, says Dr. Bohns. Buy yourself some time and tell someone that you need to get back to them or check your calendar, she says. This gives you room to weigh your options.
5. Spend time with people who make you feel good.
It can be super helpful (and more realistic) to dedicate your social time to people you actually care about. For example, Vivian N., 29, says the losses of her mom and grandmother make her feel a ton of grief during the holidays, so she’s learned that doing less is more for her. “I know that grief drains me, so I try to build in more quality time with people who fill me up,” she explains. “In all honesty, while this is a very social season, I've also made my peace that, for my well-being, it's best for me to say no to more things during these months.” Plus, doing less helps her preserve her energy so she’s able to give her all to the people she does meet up with.
Similarly, Angie C., 33, says she’s reframed the holidays as a chance for her to bond with her mom instead of hosting extended family. They’ve planned a staycation at a hotel one year and spent other holiday seasons traveling together. There’s this idea that people who “skip” the holidays are basically the Grinch, she says, but she sees it more as an opportunity to rest and have fun with people who “recharge” her.
6. Find time to do you.
Asking yourself what you need to de-stress and feel more energized and doing those things can help you fend off social exhaustion. Find time to do something alone, suggests Dr. Odessky. Getting fresh air, reading, listening to music, watching shows under a weighted blanket, and writing down glimmers are all great options. But, no matter what recharging activity you do, make sure you’re prioritizing it as high as all the other stuff you feel obligated to get done.
7. Talk to yourself like a friend.
If making space for what you need during the holidays doesn’t come easily to you, maybe you need to rethink how you talk to yourself, says Dr. Bohns. You’re less likely to shame a close friend who wanted to bail on plans, for example. It can be hard to take your own advice, but this kind of mental role-playing can help you be a little nicer to yourself.
8. Postpone to-dos that make you tired—or do them early.
When you have a bunch of events going on, the non-social things that drain your energy real low—like shopping for gifts, decorating, and cleaning—can wait until you have some time without social obligations to get them done, says Dr. Odessky. For Chrissy H., 30, even something as simple as Christmas or holiday music can leave her feeling drained, so she’ll just change the station. No one needs extra stress during this time. No one!
If prepping is more your style, you can do certain tasks that you know might make you more burnt out before the holidays get going. For example, Bridget J., 29, started buying gifts in January 2022 for December 2022 (she’s saved a gift list on her phone to keep track of them all). This, she says, has helped her enjoy the holidays without stressing about shopping or feeling rushed.
9. Take a breather.
When you’re in social situations like a holiday party or a dinner, give yourself a timeout to step away from the noise, suggests Dr. Odessky. It’s the little moments that we get to ourselves that can make social fatigue a bit less consuming. Wash your hands extra, extra, extra slowly in the bathroom; find a quiet place to breathe; or take a page out of Nina P.’s book and go on a quick walk or volunteer to check on food.
You can also just leave early, says Dr. Bohns (she personally does this when she needs to be alone). We assume that people are paying attention to things that we are really self-conscious about when, in reality, very few are keeping track, she explains. Most people probably won't even notice or criticize you for leaving early. “Maybe it impacts your best friend, but most people will just have a nice night and not judge you as harshly as you expect for it,” she says.
10. Remember that there’s no right way to spend the holidays.
What helps Sam T., 37, feel way less burnt out by the holidays is reframing Christmas Day as just a day. “Typically, the pressure to have fun and enjoy it with others is what makes it exhausting,” he says. Remembering that a holiday doesn’t have to look a certain way made it easier for him to opt out of spending Christmas with family when he was navigating sobriety. Instead, he spent the holiday alone. However you choose to celebrate your holidays this season, remind yourself that after the decorations return to storage and ovens cool down, the world moves on. It always does.
Wondermind does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Any information published on this website or by this brand is not intended as a replacement for medical advice. Always consult a qualified health or mental health professional with any questions or concerns about your mental health.