The type-A guide to surviving the season of enforced festivities

It’s OK to leave after an hour or two.
It’s OK to leave after an hour or two.
Image: Reuters/Toby Melville
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I used to think that my anxiety about a packed social calendar meant I was a not a fun person.

Fun people don’t fantasize about leaving the party early so they can get up early to keep to their running schedule. Fun people don’t worry about how much money they’re spending, or how much they’re drinking or eating, when they go out with friends. Fun people totally detach from their work when they’re home with family. The fact that I quietly fret about time away from my regular routine clearly means that I am some sort of rigid robot person, incapable of letting loose, right?

Wrong. You are not a Grinch if you’re anxious about all the year-end festivities.

As my colleague Jenni Avins wrote last week, looking ahead at a jam-packed social calendar can be a bit daunting for even the most relaxed people. It’s not because you don’t want to have a good time with your loved ones or colleagues—it’s because you know that after you’ve spent so much time indulging, you’re going to have to come back to all your regularly-scheduled activities, and then some, to make up for your time off.

The trick is balance. You definitely deserve to give yourself a break, but you’re also allowed to take a break from taking a break. As long as you’re not making it impossible for others to decompress (no one wants a lecture about your work ethic, diet plan, or exercise regime), there’s nothing wrong with making an effort to stay on top of your personal and professional goals.

You’ll have more fun if you’re not stressed about your to-do list, and you’ll come across as a lot more relaxed at social events because you genuinely will be. Here are our best tips to stay on top of your self-care, budget, and work responsibilities during the season of enforced partying.

Know your social limits

It’s a golden age for introverts, those of us who recharge best by taking time for themselves. I’m an extremely outgoing introvert. At parties and other family gatherings, I’m happy to talk to everyone, but I eventually I get to a point where I’m going to the bathroom just to have a moment alone.

Winter socializing is a marathon, not a sprint. If you’ve got multiple events coming up, strategize how you’re going to prioritize each one. You don’t have to be there for every second of every party or gathering. Don’t succumb to the pressure to stay to the bitter end—especially if you’re feeling burnt out and you wouldn’t be having a good time anyway.

A lot of people go home for the holidays, and sometimes it’s the only time of year when you get to see certain friends or family. Prioritize these people, and plan ahead to make sure you have quality time with them. If trading pleasantries over a thumping living room sound system at a party isn’t your idea of a good time, tell them that you’d rather catch up one-on-one over tea or a walk.

Budget ahead of time

Spending a lot around the holidays comes from a good place: Of course you want to make it across the country to see your family, and bring them all fantastic gifts.

But take a minute to plan how much you want to spend, and, again, prioritize. What do you know you’ll have to spend on travel, food, and drink? Once you have your baseline, you can set a budget for buying gifts—and you hopefully won’t have too many credit card surprises come January.

I find it helpful to make a spreadsheet of what I want to get everyone. Not only can I ensure that I only spend only as much as I can afford, but it forces me to focus on making each gift truly thoughtful—which is usually what matters most to the recipient anyway.

If you can’t afford to make the trip to see someone you love, or give them the gift you think they deserve, write them a warm, heartfelt note instead. Suggest catching up over the phone or on a video chat, and plan a trip for another time when it suits your budget better.

Think about what you eat, but don’t stress about it

One of the best things about the holidays is the food. It’s delicious, there’s a ton of it, and well-meaning cooks can sometimes be insistent about pressing second and third helpings upon you.

Following a diet is hard over the holidays—though if that makes you happy, then by all means, stick to your guns. Otherwise, don’t rush to clean your plate; think instead about eating slowly and appreciatively. Some studies suggest that eating off smaller plates, or cutting up your food, can trick you into eating less and still feeling satiated. And don’t starve yourself in anticipation of a good meal—you’re more likely to over-eat and feel worse later on.

In short, eat what feels right. There’s nothing wrong with indulging, but don’t feel like you have to go all out every time. The holidays aren’t the only time there are delicious foods around.

If you’re drinking, be kind to tomorrow morning’s you

If you want to party, go ahead—but think about doing it on a night where you don’t have a lot going on the next day, so you don’t feel even worse about having a hangover.

Remember that different kinds of booze seem to have different effects on drinkers. Stick to red wine if you don’t want to get too crazy. Liquor seems to rev people up and make them feel energized, confident, and sexy, according to one recent study.

Different drinks also cause different hangovers, but a lot of it comes down to how you drink. Hydration is key, so try to match each boozy drink with something non-alcoholic—or at least drink some water or club soda throughout the evening. And a pro-tip: Put a bottle of Vitamin water, Gatorade, Pedialyte or anything with electrolytes next to your bed before you go out to remind yourself to drink it when you get back.

Don’t skip your workout (unless you want to)

It’s fine to give yourself a break over the holidays, but I find that I’m my best self if I get in at least 30 minutes of exercising per day. That’s enough to keep me on track and know that returning to my regular, more intensive exercise routine will be a lot less painful. It also can be a centering way to take time for yourself.

Grab an hour in the morning or when others are napping, when you won’t be missed. Or look for opportunities to make time with friends or family more active: Ask someone to go on a walk or hike with you. Dance without abandon to holiday music (bonus points if you can convince your family to as well). Chop firewood. Even cooking and whisking batter by hand, as opposed to using a blender, forces you to flex your muscles in a way that sitting on a couch doesn’t.

Make a modified work schedule

If you’d feel better taking a little time to work over the break, do so—but in moderation. You definitely need some time off to come back to work fully charged.

Decide what a reasonable set of goals is for your time off. In some cases, this may be catching up on your email, reviewing projects, or planning for when you come back. Then, set aside a specific amount of time per day to work (30 minutes or an hour, perhaps).

Be disciplined about it—set a timer, and promise yourself that during that time, you’ll only do things that will help you meet your goals (no YouTube). Afterward, you’ll feel better about completely unplugging with your family and friends.

Give yourself an extra day to catch up

It’s hard to overstate the benefits of coming back from a trip a day before you absolutely must. That allows you time to get organized, go grocery shopping, do some laundry, and go back to work fully rested and recovered, rather than drained and harried.

If you can’t come home early, give yourself time before leaving to get things in order. I like to clean my entire apartment before I go anywhere, so I can come back to calm before the chaos of the work week. I have ambitions of someday being a person who cooks a meal to keep in the freezer for when I return, but I haven’t gotten to that level of preparedness yet.

Remember: It’s called a holiday for a reason

Holidays are supposed to be a break from your everyday life. And no matter how much you love your daily routines, you deserve to enjoy a break every now and then.

If you feel you’ve over-indulged, it’s not the end of the world. Enjoy yourself, take care of yourself,  and forgive yourself (even during a rough morning-after). You’ll get back on top of your responsibilities in due time.