How to avoid burnout when helping others this holiday season

During the holiday season, there’s more of an allure to volunteer our time and energy to others that have needs. There’s a sense of joy that comes when you see the fruit of your labor and the one you helped is grateful.

Photo by  chuks sama  on  Unsplash

Photo by chuks sama on Unsplash

If you are not careful chasing that joy can come at a major cost: burnout. A design friend of mine, Auntee Rik, told me a long time ago, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.”

There are many articles on self-care which is essentially the filling of your cup. If you’re having a hard time making time for yourself, and still want to give back during the holiday season, here are a few ways to stop burnout before it starts.

Charge for your time. I know this is the opposite of helping others. But, when it comes to helping others out or ‘supporting the movement,’ charging for your time, even in a small way, can eliminate the people who are truly taking advantage of you and your time.

If you aren’t careful these people will take up so much of your time that you won’t be able to help those who need it the most. You’ll be too tired and burnt out.

Before you let guilt creep in, know there are more ways to charge than exchanging money for work. In our technological age there are so many ways to pay people for their labor outside of cash. 


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If you find yourself doing many small tasks for others, perhaps offer a trade instead of charging your full rate. As a designer, I do a lot of tech support. But, my hourly rate is sometimes too high for people that need me to handle smaller things for them like setting up email, or installing a WordPress plugin.


I love Starbucks. But, Starbucks is expensive. So, I’ve realized the best way to bless others is to exchange tech support services for Starbucks giftcards. My tech support clients can name the price, as small as $5, and I perform a much needed task for them. This allows me to help people, doing something I truly enjoy, while being paid with something that I truly value.


Think of this as the equivalent of helping a friend move in exchange for pizza, or cleaning an elderly family member’s house in exchange for a home-cooked meal. I can guarantee there are ways to make trades for your more “mundane” services outside of cash.

Limit your commitments. As humans, we prefer to do things surrounded by groups of people who believe what we believe. These sort of communities are often essential to our own success, but they are difficult to start without the help of volunteers.

If you find a community you love, it’s often easy to volunteer your time without consulting your schedule, or taking into account your other obligations. Communities, especially newer ones, can require more work upfront that we may not realize when we sign up to volunteer. It can only take a few months to be swept away by this type of commitment.

What’s worse is that because many of these communities survive on volunteer work, guilt can overtake us when we try to leave. That guilt keeps us there far beyond what we intended and burns us out.

To prevent this from happening I have a rule of limiting the number of communities I give my free time. You only have so many hours per day.

Sit down and really be honest about which commitments are mutually beneficial and which are draining you. Remove the excess and stick to what’s left.

You may find that you’ll have to prune your commitments regularly. Don’t be afraid to quit what doesn’t work for you. It’s better to leave gracefully than to be asked to leave due to a poor attitude, or work ethic.


Ask for help. Lastly, you’re more powerful as a team, than alone. If you’re doing work for others that are outside your scope of expertise, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

You don’t know all there is to know about a singular topic, let alone multiple topics. Bringing people alongside you can expose you to perspectives that you never considered. You may even find that the help you receive blesses you more than it blesses those you’re helping.


What are you doing to practice self-care during while volunteering your time?


Brittany Melton Headshot.png

Brittany Melton is a logo and web designer of 11 years. She has worked corporately for brands such as BMW, the University of Alabama, and Target. She has been featured in Quirktastic, Search Engine Journal, and Madame Noir, just to name a few. Brittany launched her first successful business on Etsy in 2012. After hitting a few hundred sales and being featured in Entrepreneur Magazine, she used her design skills from the corporate world to venture out on her own. Ever since then, she's been working full-time as a freelance designer helping new creatives launch their brands and businesses. Twitter: @xobritdear Instagram: @xobritdear