Avoid an Energy Burnout During the Holiday Season

Is your energy for the festive season looking a little more ‘silent night’ than ‘jingle bells’?


Although many people view the end of year as a leisurely break, the lead up to Christmas actually poses a high risk of burnout and fatigue. Certain conditions that place people at a higher risk of exhaustion include (but are not limited to) chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, glandular fever, cancer, multiple sclerosis, or influenza.

To keep your lights burning bright, make sure you know your personal warning signs of fatigue, so that you can take steps before it’s too late.

Energy is a complex, multifaceted part of our human experience. A client of mine put it best when she said ‘I didn’t know how much energy I once had, until I didn’t have any left’. Mental and emotional energy operates like a bank account, and we are allocated a certain amount every day. With that energy, you can make withdrawals (busy shopping centres, wrapping presents late at night, feeding 20 people on Christmas Day) – or you might like to credit your bank account with restorative activities such as quiet reading, quality time with friends and family, meditation and walking. Like any good financial institution, you can overdraw from the bank of energy. It may be fun at the time, but the interest rates on this account are particularly high! That’s where burnout comes into play.

Burnout is defined as a state of chronic stress, leading to exhaustion, detachment, and feelings of ineffectiveness. It is beyond what you may know as ‘regular tiredness’.


Do you identify with any of the following symptoms during busy times?


  • MENTAL: Fatigue, depletion, forgetfulness, inability to focus, sleeplessness
  • PHYSICAL: Chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, stomach pains, headaches, weakened immune system, loss of appetite
  • EMOTIONAL: A sense of dread for what lies ahead, tension, worry, sadness, feeling hopeless, exacerbated anxiety and depression

Of course it is important to rule out any underlying medical conditions with your GP if you are concerned.

One strategy I use in clinic is an energy management diary (your local Accredited Exercise Physiologist can help you with this). By rating energy during all daily activities from 0-10 (0 being exhausted, 10 being refreshed), we can obtain a clear picture of the week. This is used to identifying triggers and good energy days.

Sometimes we think we are being efficient as humans by ‘piggy-backing’ several activities on top of each other. Drop the kids at school, a little bit of shopping, pop into your friends house for a coffee because you’re in the area, don’t forget to bring in the washing off the clothes line, pick up the kids, end of year break up for your netball/kinder/insert local organisation here… sound familiar? Each of those activities and their ‘transition’/travel times can take away from your energy reserve.

We are currently living in a world of sensory overload – which is why collapsing on the couch at the end of a big day with the TV blaring and eating unhealthy food does not leave you energised. On a subconscious level, our brain is still processing the sights, sounds, smells and tastes, while our conscious mind is numb from the activities of the day.


So how can you take back your holiday spirit?


1. Say no to that event you’re not too keen on. It can be scary. You might miss out on some candy canes and santa hats. But if you are in a period of extreme fatigue, those who know and love you will understand that you need to recharge your batteries, and that’s okay.

2. Find out what increases your energy.

This could be a nice walk around your local park, hanging out in nature, playing with your pet, or just sitting quietly for an allocated timeslot every day.

3. Wait til 5 to survive.

This one is not always possible, but it would help if your self-rated energy level was a 5 out of 10, or even higher, before even attempting the next activity. Any lower than this and you risk going into energy debt – which you will have to pay for eventually!

4. Know your signs.

I personally get stinging, tired eyes if I’ve tried to do too many things in one day. You may find yourself stifling yawns, even ‘nodding off’ into a microsleep, wondering how you got from A to B, or just generally feeling a bit ‘blah’.


It’s important to know what your tell-tale signs are in order to manage them better, or ideally, prevent them.


Regardless of what causes your fatigue, it is imperative that you find your energy management team. Good collaborative care involves many health professionals working with you towards a common goal. You may wish to enlist your GP to help with burnout and fatigue, who can then connect you with psychology services. Exercise physiologists are also well placed to assist with energy, particularly in the context of physical activity levels. You may also wish to inform close friends and family that you can’t be everywhere, for everyone, but if you start to manage your personal energy you will have more to share around when needed.

Most importantly, prioritise activities that align best with your values these holidays – cherish time spent with family and friends, give to those who need it most, and take good care of yourself. Merry Christmas!



Jennifer Smallridge is an Accredited Exercise Physiologist who works in private practice, aged care and as an academic lecturer.