How to avoid festive season burnout

Start out on summer holidays excited and energised, only to get back to work in the new year feeling exhausted? Festive burnout is real, and our sleep expert Olivia Arezzolo explains what you can do to avoid it.

Sleep: it’s free. And we all want more of it, so why is it so hard to get? Specifically – that consistent, restorative, uninterrupted, eight-hours-a-night kinda sleep. Which is why we’ve enlisted Sydney-based sleep expert Olivia Arezzolo to solve our myriad of sleep concerns with our new editorial series Sleep Well Wednesdays. Check back each week and you’ll be off to the land of nod before you know it.

2020, what a year. Research shows that from COVID-19 alone, 78 percent of Aussies believe their mental health deteriorated, 62 percent reported to be more depressed, 50 percent were more anxious and 64 percent of us are more stressed.

Combined with our stock standard festive fatigue, insufficient sleep, excessive alcohol and trying to get those last-minute projects across the line, it’s no surprise many of us are about to call it quits.

But before you do – take a deep breath and know there are things you can do to start 2021 feeling fresh instead of on the brink of burnout.

1. Enjoy alcohol-free nights

Now, as much as I love a spritz (or two), I can testify I do not feel fresh after a night of spritzing. At all.

Like what you see? Sign up to our bodyandsoul.com.au newsletter for more stories like this.

First, alcohol compromises sleep. Studies show you spend less time in slow-wave (deep) sleep, which leaves you more fatigued than usual come morning.

Secondly, research shows alcohol impairs nutrient absorption because it damages our delicate microbiome.

This means even if you are still having a healthy meal, you won’t feel as energised as you would normally. For every one night you have on the booze, have two nights off, or opt for low / no alcohol options.

2. Reduce blue light exposure

Stressed and sleepless? These are classic signals stress hormone cortisol is too high and if you’ve been glued to your screen through 2020 (who hasn’t), it’s no surprise.

Clinical studies show just one hour of blue light (e.g. from screens) can equate to a 35 percent increase in cortisol.

As a result, you’re unable to concentrate, are inattentive and emotionally irritable. Research also shows blue light impacts sleep too: just two hours of exposure can reduce sleepiness hormone melatonin by 38 percent; creating havoc in falling and staying asleep.

Reduce exposure by adding a blue light screen protector to your phone, such as Light Shield, wear a pair of blue light blocking glasses, or both.

3. Load up on omega 3s

Found abundantly in tuna, salmon, eggs, walnuts, seaweed and spirulina, omega 3s are critical for mental health and it’s much needed when you’re on your last legs.

Evidence shows lower intakes of omega 3’s are linked with depression, so much so that it’s now considered standard by many physicians to combine omega 3s with SSRI’s, aka pharmacological antidepressants.

Similarly, for those struggling with emotional stability and memory, omegas have been found helpful here too.

4. Diffuse citrus oils

Problems switching off? Get some citrus into your system, quick smart.

As noted in clinical research, citrus oils help reduce activity in your brain’s prefrontal cortex.

As this region is the ‘working’ area, if you’re feeling like you’re unable to unwind, it’s likely it’s overactive, so using citrus oils may help you get that much-needed downtime.

Further evidence shows citrus oils are also great mood enhancers too, which is often compromised in burnout.

5. Go forest bathing

When it comes to thinking clearly and creatively, forest bathing i.e. spending time in nature, is the way to go. With respect to memory, researchers at the University of Michigan found walking in nature, rather than a city street, can boost memory by 20 percent.

Another study found a four-day nature immersion improved creativity performance by more than 50 percent.

And while you may not have four days to laze about in nature right now, Christmas is just a fortnight away so keep that in mind when mapping out your (local) January getaway.

And before I sign off…

I will flag that temporary burnout is completely normal from time to time. However, if you’ve been feeling this way for months – constantly run down, restless at night, unable to focus at work, relying on caffeine, alcohol and sugar to keep you going and lacking enthusiasm for your usual activities – I recommend speaking to a doctor, psychologist or health professional for additional support as soon as possible.

Olivia Arezzolo is a sleep expert who holds a Bachelor of Social Science (Psychology); Certificate of Sleep Psychology, Diploma of Health Science (Nutritional Medicine); Certificate of Fitness III + IV. You can find her online here.