Why are you so damn exhausted?
You’ve celebrated the holidays, you’ve put your best face on and cringe-smiled at your relative’s bad or perhaps semi-racist jokes, and now they’re headed out the door, finally. You’re alone, with only the remnants of Christmas dinner past, and you should feel elated.
Instead, you feel exhausted. How is it possible that getting free of your visiting family makes you even more tired than when you cleaned your house from top to bottom to avoid comments from Aunt Frieda about dust and her asthma?
Perhaps you were the one that traveled, put yourself up uncomfortably with your significant other in your old room and your too-narrow twin bed that squeals like a narc when you even try and turn on your other side a little too fast. Those uncomfortable moments with relatives that you spend all year avoiding end up draining you to the extreme.
But why? You were just on a holiday, weren’t you? You think you should feel refreshed, but the only thing you gained while you celebrated was matching suitcases for the bags under your eyes and some pounds for your waistline. (And probably a renewed sense of hatred for the fruitcake Grandma insists on making every year, even though the old one is still in the fridge from last Christmas, and it’s gained sentience and a bad attitude.)
So why are you just exhausted? Well, you can thank a little phenomenon identified by Dr. Adam Fried, a clinical psychologist in Scottsdale, AZ, as “family jet lag.”
“Many times we may not even realize the level of our anxiety — or the resulting consequences, like extreme fatigue — until well after the event has passed,” says Dr. Fried.
So you’ve used up precious vacation days that you’ve been hoarding all year like a nervous squirrel preparing for winter, and you want to have a good time. But you’ve had to fit too many engagements into a short period, you’re sleeping in an unfamiliar area, likely with other people around you, maybe you’re sharing one tiny bathroom, and you’re being forced to put on a smile even when you’re totally uncomfortable, in some cases. There’s also immense pressure to “perform,” to be your absolute best to create a unique, happy, and unforgettable holiday experience, Dr. Fried believes.
All of this can add up to a maelstrom of events that leave you feeling exhausted or even anxious for no real definable reason. But how can you recover from this overwhelming sense of holiday that’s left you drained?
According to Dr. Dion Metzger, a psychiatrist and sleep expert, you need to learn to acknowledge when you’re overwrought and ask for the appropriate help. Relatives excited to see your kids? Great! Hand them over while you get the rest you need for a couple of hours. Dr. Metzger also suggests that you should learn to say “no,” and only agree to the things that you know for certain you’re capable of handling.
“Only say yes to things that fit into your schedule with the rest you need,” she said. “You can’t do everything.”
And one last piece of advice from Dr. Fried? Set and adhere to firm departure dates. If your in-laws’ or family member’s houses will be too crowded, then stay in a hotel so you don’t have to stress about whether someone will have to sleep on the floor or an uncomfortable lumpy pull-out couch.
This will also give you a chance to unwind away from the stress of people running all over each other in a small family house for the holiday, and a safe haven to return to when you’re done listening to the third, fourth, or perhaps tenth heated political debate over the dinner table.
The best thing you can do is prepare yourself for the holidays, plan accordingly, and make sure not to skimp on rest. Well, that and also pack some handy alcoholic treats for yourself so that hearing Grandpa Joe’s stories for the eighteenth time doesn’t seem to bother you quite so much.