The truth is, I really hate Christmas. No, I am not a Scrooge, with an overall stingy and bad attitude. In fact, I am pretty kind and very giving the rest of the year. But, I am one of those people who works in a job impacted by the Christmas rush, in every way possible. I will work in excess of 60 hours a week, sometimes more than 70, for 6 weeks straight, to “make Christmas happen,” for the rest of the country. Like many others in seasonally impacted work fields, I am drowning in seasonal exhaustion. I am anxious, overworked, and burned out. Tis the season.
When my children were young, I adored Christmas. We had a theme every year, for our decorations, and wrapping. We had events and activities every day starting the day after Thanksgiving. We baked cookies. We made gingerbread houses. We adopted less fortunate families. The whole month was a glorious and festive occasion. This does not make me hate christmas any less now, but it does enable me to understand how important it is that this time of year be something special for the rest of the world.
My field is certainly not the only one impacted by the holiday season, and Christmas is not the only season that puts groups of workers into a period of unreasonable demands. I am not lamenting that no one else understands. There are many people who understand seasonal exhaustion, because they too are working such excessive hours that it would probably be illegal in many civilized countries.
Far too many people who endure similar hardships and excessive workload during the peak seasons of their particular field. I am well aware of the burdens on workers in many other fields- hospitality workers during peak travel periods, farmers and field workers during planting and harvest times, packaging and order fulfillment workers at the onset of the holiday shopping rush- all are subject to seasonal exhaustion.
What Our Lives Become
During these times, our lives gradually decompose as the days and weeks go on. Our days become nothing more than a cycle of working, sleeping, and repeating. We forget to eat, and often rely on sugar and caffeine to get us through the days. Many of us are experts at making coffee!
We lose touch with our families and loved ones, and our sacrifices become their sacrifices as well. We miss them, and we are not there for them when they need us. They miss us. Even when we do get a few minutes, we are often not really there. Our brains have become foggy and our focus dull. We grow increasing irritable and emotional. Little issues start to seem like a big deal. Our little aches and pains become big aches and pains, and then often, continuous pain.
In the case of seasonal workload, eventually, it all comes to an end. After a period of rest, or decreased demands, we recover. Our energy will return, and our lives will resume their normal courses. But we have lost a little piece of them forever. We tell ourselves we will never go through that again, with the full knowing that we will do exactly that a year later, unless we make some drastic changes in our lives.
Why Do We Do This?
We know that long term overtime is not healthy, so why do we go through this year after year? We endure this for many reasons, but in many cases, it is because we believe we have no choice. Sometimes we believe it is the right thing to do. The bills must be paid, and the family must be fed. We cannot lose our jobs. We sacrifice so our families “don’t have to.”
Whether or not I could make a philosophical argument as to whether we do or do not have a choice is a topic for another time. For now, if we must endure these long work hours, how do we muddle through?
Surviving Seasonal Exhaustion
Going straight to the source is usually the best way to get the inside scoop. Real workers, who are among those putting in insane hours, with some very physically demanding duties shared some of the things that help them get through. I have 23 years of experience surviving this period to pull from. And, our editor Keyauni wrote up her tips.
Tips for enduring long hours. 1) JUST BREATH. This time of year is hectic for us all but especially those working retail or shipping. When I get really overwhelmed I remind myself to just breath. Personally I practice 7,4,8. Breath in for 7 counts, hold 4, out for 8. This always seems to calm my racing heart.
2) I choose to be obnoxiously cheerful and grateful, remind myself how much I love my friends and family, doing things that make me feel happy, for you that may be a jog or a good book, for some it may be blasting Christmas music and decorating their house while baking things just so your house smells like the holidays (*cough cough, me)
3) I meditate every night and every morning. This is key for me, it helps me to destress at night and power up in the morning. Meditations can be used for lots of things, sleep, anxiety, stress, positivity. You can sit or lay quietly and clear your mind on your own, for some this may be difficult. I Have a difficult time doing this at night because my mind is still racing from the day. However there is a wide selection of guided meditations on YouTube for anything you could think of. Give them a shot. Keyauni
As did our guest author, Christine Gillmore.
Do you work in a job that puts in ridiculous amounts of hours during the Christmas season? UPS? FEDEX? USPS? Retail? Here’s a couple of things to help get you through. Try to stick to a similar sleep schedule if possible. You may end up with less hours of sleep but you’ll still be on a similar schedule. Dont fall into eating crap foods. YOUR CROCKPOT IS YOUR FRIEND! Research quick meals. Throw your meal in before you head off for that full 5 hours of sleep. Fast food will only make you feel lethargic and run down and a good meal can be waiting for you when you wake up. This is great for your family too!
Pay ahead. If you can financially do so, pay ahead on your bills. Maybe you can’t for your house payment but if you can take care of any of your monthly bills such as gas, electric, credit card, loans, etc it will ensure you don’t forget to pay them and give you a few more minutes of sleep and fewer worries.
Don’t forget to breath. December will come and go before you know it. If you are putting in more hours keep in mind it is usually because you are helping someone else provide a happy Christmas for another family. Unfortunately that probably won’t provide comfort to the family that is getting to spend less time with you. Sometimes the best you can do is talk to everyone beforehand. Prepare them for what lies ahead. My family has done crazy December months for 22 years.
Whenever possible plan a long weekend shortly after the holidays. Take that hard-earned money and go make memories. Sure you can save it or spend on after Christmas sales so you can pile more stuff into your house but take that money, make memories and go have yourself another adventure! Christine
The Sum of What Helps
Here are all of the tips we collected from those who do this year after year.
Keep your mind right!
This is not easy, and it gets harder as the hours get longer, and the period of excess stretches out. But, it is the number 1 critical factor of getting through with your health, and your sanity.
- Frequently remind yourself that this is a temporary period. Remind yourself daily that it comes to an end, and in fact, there may be a specific day that it will come to an end. Knowing when the end will come helps to endure all of the prior days. Make a calendar, with a big star on the day of relief. Mark off the passing days as you get closer to the star. Put a recurring reminder or a countdown in your phone. Look to the light at the end of the tunnel.
- Remind yourself each day why you are going through this. If you feel that you must, for your family or loved ones, then keep that focus. Create an image in your mind of how your burden is easing the burden on your family and making their lives better. Put something in place to bring that image to your mind when the stress level gets high. It could be a rubber band around your wrist, a special pendant, or even writing it on your palm. For me, I have their names tattooed around my forearm, and that reminds me. Our families are worth the struggle. They always will be.
- Think of the good you are doing for someone else. Even though I hate Christmas, I know that I am helping to make it special to someone, somewhere. The truth is, I know that I am contributing to a special holiday season for a lot of people. Knowing that just one child will have a happy smile when opening the gift from his favorite Uncle in the military, or that one grandpa gets that little handwritten card, helps me get through.
Manage your stress
Modern research has given us a lot of information about the dangers of stress. We can manage it, and keep it at a controllable level, decreasing the risks. But it is easier said than done.
Remember to Breath
Nearly everyone who discussed this topic, including our staff, said that it is important to breath. As simple as it sounds, breathing is powerful. We often don’t even realize that when we are highly stressed, our breathing becomes irregular. Sometimes we even stop breathing, without even knowing it.
Focussing on our breath, being consciously aware of it, helps us regain a modicum of control over ourselves. It can stop oncoming panic attacks, and it can prevent all out emotional breakdown. It takes practice, but it is worth the effort. When emotions threaten to tip the scale of your control, catch yourself, and breath. After a few good deep breaths, your rational mind can usually resume control, and you realize the outburst will not reap any results, nor be worth the energy it costs. I have to do this frequently.
When it becomes too much, let it out. The easiest way is to find that friend who will let you spill your guts about your frustration, and then make you laugh about it afterwards. I can go off on a rant, with a lot of swearing, hand gestures, and dramatics to a couple of people, and if they respond in the right way, we all feel better afterwards. The other important side of this is that when someone else is venting to you, be understanding, but don’t feed into it, and fuel the energy even more. The point of venting is to diffuse, and it works much better when one party can “get it” but be the calming factor.
Laughter is probably the greatest way to level out anxiety and even anger. Finding a way to laugh can be a challenge during the pressure, but it makes the situation better in almost every way. Practice looking for the humor in situations. Let yourself be the source of laughter for others, which will make you laugh as well. Create some inside jokes. Come up with some catch phrases that relieve tension and get each other smiling. One of my favorites, which sounds completely negative, is “did I ever tell you that I hate everyone? Well, I hate everyone but you.” that usually gets us both chuckling.
Spend 15 or 20 minutes of your day meditating, and if you can do it morning and night, do so. Meditation is tried and true, but it can be prayer, creative visualization, practicing gratitude, energy medicine, Holosync, brain entrainment, or whatever “system” works enables you to get back in touch with that part of yourself that is more than the situation right in front of you. Journaling is a more physical way of doing the same thing. If you don’t know what that is, experiment until you find what works for you. There are a lot of resources out there to get you started. And, in my opinion this is one of those things that you fake it until you make it. Just forcing yourself to take the down time will help in itself.
Care for your body
Your body takes a beating when working excessive seasonal hours. When you are young, you don’t feel the toll as badly, but the wear and tear still accumulates. When you are older, the physical challenges, and outright pain, become the most difficult part of the long shifts.
Sleep must be a priority during long periods of excessive workload, although it may seem as there will be less time for sleep. Your body needs to recuperate, and sleep is the most integral part of that. If you struggle falling asleep, ensure that you are eating and drinking right, as not doing so contributes to some of the causes of insomnia.
Even when the hours available to sleep are decreased, keeping a consistent pattern will help. Going to bed at the same time, in the same place helps, even if you are only going to get 4 or 5 hours of sleep.. Having a pre-sleep ritual, which does not involve the television or Facebook, helps us fall asleep faster.
For some people, a warm cup of milk aids sleep. For others, including me, melatonin does the same. Those of us bothered by light or sound as we sleep should consider black shades or ear plugs. For those of us who struggle with brain chatter, a white noise track, or brain wave track, can help. Last year I wore headphones every night, and listened to a rainstorm with isochronic waves, in order to sleep well.
Drink your water, and other beverages that have nutrients and electrolytes. Water is absolutely essential to important physiological processes, including temperature regulation. As I had to tell my mother, repeatedly, coffee does not count as water, even if it is black. It is especially easy to become dehydrated, and mineral deficient, when working excessive hours.
Even when we do not realize it,we are sweating all the time, which is why we should always be drinking 8 glasses of water each day. During the heavy work times, we are sweating at a heavier rate, and for a longer period of time, than normal. We are losing a lot of water and mineral as we sweat. The last thing any of us needs is to be lying in bed, exhausted but unable to sleep because we can’t get warm (dehydrated,) or because we are having muscle spasms (mineral deficient.) Drink extra water during this time frame, and ensure that your minerals are sufficient, whether that is through good diet, supplements, or beverages containing electrolytes.
Eating properly often goes to the wayside during extended periods of long work hours. Especially in the US, where we are prone to grabbing what we can, when we can. Some of also, simply forget to eat, when we are working 12 or 13 hours in a day. This is the worst time to let your diet go to crap, or to fast food. Your body needs the calories and the nutrients during these time frames.
Find ways to get regular healthy meals. Some people rely on the crock pot. Last year, we had a home meal subscription, where everything needed to prepare a healthy meal was packaged and delivered to our door. This year, we rely a lot on GrubHub. Living in a city, we can now get delivery from regular restaurants, not just Chinese and pizza. We order two meal each time, so we have lunch for later. Another great thing some workers do, is take turns cooking, and bring dinner to work for their friends. Then each person only has to cook once or twice a week.
Be aware of the ergonomic issues put on your body while working. Stretch out, and particularly stretch the body parts used for your duties.. Change positions as frequently as possible. Adjust the manner in which you perform your tasks occasionally, to give burdened body parts a break. This may mean using your off-hand for a few minutes. Move around when possible, rather than standing stationary. Sit when the opportunity presents itself.
Try homeopathic remedies when pain begins. There are a lot of topical ointments on the market, which will help alleviate stiff muscles and sore joints. Many of them are made with menthol for that immediate cooling sensation, but Capsaicin and Arnica are also proven to help. This year I am using a Maria Trebben product I picked up in Germany called Schwedentrauter Balsam, which does help. Rotating ice and heat at home also helps. Aspirin is often overlooked these days, in light of more modern pain medications. However, it is a completely natural medication that helps reduce inflammation and pain, for those who can take it.
Find a physical treatment or process that works for you, and use it when you are taxing your body to extremes. It may not take away physical pain, but it does make you feel better. For me, it is a massage that does the trick. These days I can afford that expense. When I couldn’t, I had my children walk on my back. Others I know like a pedicure, with a full foot massage. Yet others use a whirlpool/hot tub at their health club.
Don’t be afraid to explore some of the lesser known treatments, as they can work wonders, and there are people who swear by them. Float tanks are hard to find, but they have aid in recuperation amazingly well. True reflexology works wonders for some people. Acupuncture is a godsend for others. Research what is available in your area, and find what helps your body endure the long hours.
Help your coworkers
When you are overburdened, sometimes the last thing you want to think about is helping someone else. However, during periods of seasonal demand it is important to do so. We all have to get through the storm together, and each one of us impacts all of the others. Helping others get through, helps everyone, including us.
Be the source of laughter for co-workers. Be the cheerleader. Tell your co-workers when you noticed what a good job they did. Remind them how they will enjoy spending the money they are earning. Give them a pat on the back when their spirits are particularly low. Bring a healthy snack for everyone. Remember that you have what you can give away, so if you can give a laugh, you have a laugh.
Seasonal Exhaustion Ends – But it Comes Again
Seasonal work demand comes every year, and we all know it is coming. ‘The very best thing we can do, as Christine pointed out, is to prepare in advance. It will still be hard to get through, but advance preparation can eliminate a lot of the outside worries. That makes the whole situation better. We will do an entire article on advance preparation in the future.
Every year, for 23 years now, I have made it through the season. I make it to christmas celebrations, with glassy eyes, and my face drawn tight with that over caffeinated look. I honestly cannot say that the ending paycheck is worth the struggle and sacrifice. But I can say that I, and many others in my field, have learned to persevere through it all.
In our field, the current period of seasonal exhaustion is beginning to wind down now. We are all surviving. We are tired, We are overwhelmed. Our bodies hurt. But we will get through. The tips above are what has helped us through working 60 and 70 hours a week, for 6 weeks straight. They will help you too!