Overwhelmed by Extracurricular Demands of Work During Holiday-Party Season? Here’s How To Protect Your Boundaries

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It’s the holiday season, which means my busy work schedule is also flanked by all kinds of extracurricular activities, like a gift exchange, a team holiday lunch, and a company holiday party. It's all meant to be fun and reflective of a positive team culture, but as an introvert (especially one who's grown accustomed during these past two years to spending so much time by myself), it's also super overwhelming and overstimulating. Furthermore, I can't help but feel inauthentic in faking enthusiasm about all of this because my co-workers aren't my closest friends and my job is not the most important part of my life.

I know a lot of people really do love these celebrations, so I'm not suggesting they stop happening. But, since they are draining to me, how can I maintain healthy holiday party boundaries, especially when I don't even feel super-connected to my job and co-workers on a personal level?


Oh, the wonderful added pressure of “celebrating the season” at work, especially when you still have to meet deadlines and juggle the demands of your personal life. Is it ever appropriate to opt out completely of events that occur after-hours? And assuming you do attend holiday parties, how long is long enough to stay? This can be stressful regardless of the year, but weighing these concerns can be especially challenging after the taxing two years that we’ve had during the pandemic.

That said, everyone’s tolerance to (and even excitement for!) work-sanctioned holiday celebrations is a little bit different. With that in mind, here are three potential strategies to approach this holiday season at work in a way that allows you to protect your boundaries but also display an appropriate level of engagement.

Situation 1: Celebrating the holidays with your team is important to you, and you do have the energy to follow through

Good for you for having the bandwidth to authentically feel connected to joy during the often stressful times of the holidays. But since many folks on your team invariably don't feel this way, do be mindful of their holiday party boundaries rather than prod them to try and feel the same way you do. Remember, you never know what's going on in someone's personal life, and you also aren't privy to the the emotional makeup that characterizes the way people best perform in various situations.

That said, as someone who feels strongly about holiday celebrations, you can take on the important role of being a leader in this sphere. If any festivities require team members to take on jobs with regards to planning, setting up, cleaning up, or otherwise, consider taking some of this on. Anything you can happily sign up to do removes the task from becoming a burden or obligation to another team-member who might not have the same holiday season mental or literal bandwidth.

Situation 2: You do want to celebrate; however, you have limitations of energy, bandwidth, and time

Kudos to you for recognizing that this may not be your season to “do the most.” Even if you're not the veritable team cheerleader of holiday spirit, there are some simple things you can do that reinforce the spirit of the season while respecting your self-imposed holiday party boundaries.

You can show appreciation to team members by writing them a personal note. Don’t forget about your leaders, either. If you’re lucky enough to have a good boss, this is a perfect opportunity to let them know that you appreciate them. Check in with yourself often to make sure you aren't burning yourself out on holiday festivities. If you feel yourself trending in that direction, ask yourself how you might replenish your energy. Do you need to be the last person at the party? Could removing yourself from a conversation to gather yourself with deep breaths in the bathroom help? Consider simple shifts you can make to restore your energy.

Situation 3: You're drained and don’t really care to celebrate

Now we’re being honest: A great many employees struggle with exhaustion, burnout, and overall mental-health challenges. So if you feel you can't bring yourself to celebrate the season with work, it’s safe to say you're not alone.

When you are in energy-preservation mode it’s important to understand your team and company culture, though. Will a lack of participation in group gatherings reflect poorly on you, or will your team understand if you respectfully bow out from extra things right now? If you are unsure, the safest way to proceed is to show up to the activities, smile, and make your presence known for a respectful amount time (say, half the duration of the gathering) before saying your goodbyes.

Of course, if you are concerned about the safety implications with gathering in person in light of the pandemic, it's vital that you act in a way that makes you feel protected and comfortable. If this means you cannot in good conscience attend group celebrations, make sure to share this reason with your supervisor, and perhaps suggest a virtual component of the party or a secondary, virtual-only event.

However you choose to celebrate (or not!), though, remember that the season is meant to evoke joy. Do what you can to operate in alignment with whatever feels joy-sparking to you (so long as doing so won't compromise your standing at work). And no matter how you celebrate, I hope you are able to dedicate some time to recharging and resting, which we could all use.

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