How to take a PROPER Christmas break

Avoid festive burn out (like regular burn out but with tinsel)

Thank you to all my generous Ko-Fi angels for your support over the past months, and also to those who helped with my survey (which is still open FYI). Want to say Happy Christmas to a tired journalist? I bloody love a festive hot chocolate

Morning, colleague!

Full disclosure - this was written before the flaming dog poo of Saturday night was posted into our collective post box. Christmas is going to be tough for many of us who were expecting to see loved ones - I’m absolutely gutted not to be seeing my mum anymore, which feels like a kicker after months of shielding for her and my husband. But all of this negativity makes it even more important that I - and you - make the time and space to rest properly. It’s been an insanely stressful year for everyone, and I would argue even more so for those working for themselves. This letter is here to encourage you to take some time out for yourself, to recharge as much as possible over the coming days.

BUT…before we get started I just want to flag something that future you - the you who is full of new year’s pep and enthusiasm - might like!

One topic that several of you have mentioned is the idea of accountability - of wanting someone to check in with, so you feel motivated to get on with work instead of watching Come Dine With Me (a personal vice). So in January I’m planning:

Two free accountability sessions!

Both will be low key and friendly. The first - Jan 8th - will be a nice chance to chat to other self-employed women, share your professional December wins, and set an intention for January. The second, on Jan 29th, means you can let us know how you got on, share anything you’ve struggled with, and set public goals for Feb. I know it’s a bit early to think about new year, but just in case any of you already think ‘YES I NEED THAT’ - you can sign up to part one here, and part two here (both free).

Right - rest.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve spent the last month fielding the question:

‘When are you stopping work for Christmas?’

I’m aware that it’s just polite chat rather than anyone being particularly interested, but it’s yet another example of self-employment making me feel a bit like an alien. I mean – when am I going to stop? It’s not like I’ll ever reach the end of my to-do list. (Literally, never. I just had a coaching session for an article - which I will make sure to share next year - and made my coach, the wonderful Kerry Hearsey, sigh: ‘oh, another big list, why am I not surprised?’)

So, a bit like most Friday afternoons, I’m left feeling a bit weird and guilty about clocking off. It’s one time where I really miss the office life (not that anyone is experiencing that this year), and a boss who’s even more knackered than me telling us we can all shove off a bit early. That feeling of leaving your desk – even if it’s still piled high – to wait until the new year, was a little slice of heaven. It’s somewhat difficult to recreate when you live in the same house as your desk, and you’re not being paid to take a holiday. Bah, humbug.

That said, it’s incredibly important that you – yes, you – take a quality break, and the Christmas holiday makes the most sense as we’re unlikely to be getting emails from clients/customers. I’ve spoken to award-winning psychologist Natasha Tiwari about why and how to switch off properly this week.

A recipe for burn out

“Remember that just like the earth goes through seasons, so do we. The idea that we can operate like robots is entirely flawed – it’s not how we’ve evolved,” says Natasha. “If you try to work like a machine – especially in a time of intense demands – you make yourself vulnerable to burn out, or you might miss the opportunity to do something about it.”

But what exactly does rest and recuperation look like?

It’s different for everyone, but I can tell you what it doesn’t look like. It doesn’t look like decluttering the house, or spending a day doing your taxes. Both of those things are still important (sorry), but you can’t chalk them up as rest days.

“Rest should feel restorative,” says Natasha. “It’s not ‘free time’ to catch up with everything else.”

How to ensure you’re resting ‘properly’

There’s so much advice floating around about how to switch off from work, but actually it comes down to you, and what you need.

“Putting your phone away gets dished out as blanket advice, but for lots of people that’s not what’s burning them out – it’s something else, such as being at home with the kids. By all means create boundaries around your tech, but don’t expect it to solve everything,” says Natasha.

What does work? Coming up with your own unique ‘rest prescription’.

We all relax in different ways – while some of my friends find cooking soothing, I find it stressful. Some people might love whisking the Hoover around (more power to you), while for others, rest involves barely lifting a finger. Some of us take a week or more to properly wind down, while for others, just a day away from work can prove sufficiently restorative.

“I think men and women are equally bad at resting, but for women there’s more of a tendency to slip into ‘martyrdom mode’. Women are more likely to overextend themselves and not be aware of their boundaries,” says Natasha.

And of course that’s more likely than ever over Christmas when – even in a weird year like this one – there are generally extra jobs to be done.

It might be worth asking yourself:

  1. How long does it typically take me to unwind (and is there anything I can do to speed that up, eg if something tends to leave you tense, could you avoid or minimise it?)

  2. Which activities make me feel genuinely rested – and can I ensure to do at least one of them over the break?

  3. Incorporating both questions – how much time do I need to spend doing that activity to feel restored? Can I do it just once, or does it need to be daily for a period of several days?

Take what you need

“This Christmas is a bit different, but you still need to be really honest about what you need,” says Natasha. Obviously it’s unlikely your house will be crowded with family, but even within a couple, bubble or with kids around, you might still need time to yourself. “If you’re an introvert and need time to recharge, take it. If you’re an extrovert, seek out people [on Zoom or phone] who make you feel recharged.”

A tense festive atmosphere this year mean all the more reason to spend some time drawing up – and making clear to others in your household – your boundaries. Whether you need a solo jog before breakfast, or an hour-long uninterrupted bath each night, make whatever you need to do to properly reset your top priority.

Ask for help, delegate, or cancel things. If there was ever a year for scrapping traditions that stress you out, or starting new ones that act as a balm to the soul - it’s this one.

After all, when you’re self-employed there’s no cushy company sick pay to bail you out if you need time off for low energy and moods in the new year.

How to pause money worries

It’s been a shit year for most of us, and if you’re worried about money it can be extra tough to take care of yourself.

“If you’re stressed about money it can hijack your nervous system, and make you feel unsafe – that makes it hard to relax,” says Natasha. “There’s no quick fix, but my advice is to try and hone in on areas in which you are well looked after. I know that’s easier said than done, but if you can stop feeling like your basic needs aren’t being met, and give yourself some context, that will help.”

Try to focus on things in your life that feel stable and secure, to help you step away from those stresses and calm your nervous system. This should help you relax, and also put you in a better headspace for solving problems in the new year.

Yes, Christmas is a time of giving, but this year it’s more important than ever to include yourself on the gift list. Draw yourself some boundaries and a bath, fill that mulled wine mug, and try to leave your worries at your desk - even if it’s just for a day or two.

For once, I’m taking my own advice (I know - I’ve grown so much) so I’ll see you back here, full of New Year beans, on January 4th.

Merry Christmas, colleague.

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