Self-Care for the Holidays
Holidays are a difficult time of year for many different reasons. You might have an interpersonally challenging family who drains you to the core if you spend more than one hour with them. Maybe your holiday get-togethers are filled with passive aggressive conflict that bubbles up to the surface the more time you spend in a room together. Perhaps you would rather spend your holidays at home, alone or with your partner, and yet feel racked with guilt of what you “should” be doing with your holidays. Whether your holiday triggers emotionally dysregulating memories, childhood trauma, or just plain stress, self-care is an important part of getting through the holiday season.
Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. This is the biggest area that comes up for my clients around the holidays. Boundaries show up everywhere—how much time are you giving to things other people want to do, and how much are you giving to yourself? Where are your spending your holidays? How long will you be there? What expectations do people have for you, and what happens if these clash with your own expectations? How much do other people’s emotions around the holidays affect you, and how do you manage that?
The first place to start with boundaries is practicing awareness. Notice what is happening internally for you, and you can begin to develop your inner boundary radar system. What happens in your body when your aunt sarcastically remarks, “Well, some of us actually have work to do today,” ? What thoughts run through your mind when you anticipate having to spend an entire weekend at your parents’ or in-laws house, with no way to escape? What kinds of emotions come up as you imagine having to engage in surface-level, fake conversation with all of your relatives for an entire day? Noticing your thoughts, emotions, and body sensations can help build up your internal cues for knowing when a boundary is being crossed and helping you do something about it.
Self-statement for setting boundaries: I am allowed to choose how I spend my time and emotional energy.
Your needs matter.
Another part of self-care for the holidays is being able to recognize, express, and attend to your needs. Everyone has different needs, of course, but when you struggle with depression, anxiety, relationship difficulties, or other longstanding mental health issues, your needs may be particularly different — especially if your family or people you spend the holidays with don’t really understand these kinds of things. People may expect you to spend an entire day socializing, not understanding that for someone with social anxiety or high need for alone time, this is extremely exhausting. Your family may not be able to see how much their dynamics and interpersonal patterns impact you emotionally, and even if they can, they may not know how to stop. Others’ attitudes toward depression may be “Why can’t you just be happy?”, which is invalidating and just plain unhelpful.
Make a list of your needs, and then figure out how you will assert to get each of them met, and what you will do to attend to them. Maybe your needs include having downtime at the end of each day to spend by yourself or with your partner. You could need a plan to take a break and distract in the middle of the day by taking a walk, going for a drive, or hiding out in a separate room to watch your favorite TV episode on your phone. Maybe you bring an activity with you like knitting, crossword puzzles, or an interesting book so you can be around/near people without having to engage.
Self-statement for attending to your needs: I know what I need, and it’s my job to take care of those needs, even if other people don’t understand or need different things than me.
Create your own traditions.
If you’re struggling with getting through the holidays because losing family or loved ones has created a massive change in your traditions, finding ways to rebuild these traditions in a meaningful way is important to moving forward. Or maybe you’re trying to break out of unhealthy patterns and build your own routines around the holidays that actually bring you a sense of calm and happiness. Either way, it can be helpful to identify what’s actually important to you about holidays and create some routines and traditions that contribute to this meaning.
One way to identify potential ways of creating holiday traditions is to consider your values. What is important to you in life right now? Creating connection with others? Finding ways to be grateful and practice mindfulness of what brings you joy in life? Taking a break from your hectic work or school life and spending time doing things you actually want to do, without pressure to wake up at a specific time or pay attention to your to-do list? Slowing down to cook and enjoy your favorite comfort foods? Whatever the answer is, find a way to make space and time for an activity that promotes this value. It might be setting aside a few hours to play video games without interruption, or making sure your holidays are filled with your family of choice. You could decide to spend time at your own house on the actual holiday, and allow time for get-togethers with immediate or extended family on other weekends or free time. If relaxing is important, find a way to do that even while spending time at your relatives’ or in-laws’ house.
Self-statement for creating new routines: I can do one small thing each day that is important to me. It is my job to create space for the things I want to do.
Plan time to decompress.
For most people, holidays are a stressful time, even if some of the experiences are positive and fulfilling. Holidays usually involve a disruption of regular daily routines, sleep and eating schedules, extra travel and time in the car or on a plane, more need for communication about plans and expectations…the list goes on.
When you are planning how to spend your holidays, make sure you schedule in some time to decompress and let yourself emotionally recover. This might be taking the day after the holiday itself off work if you can, or just coming home early from a family event to make sure you still have time to relax before you go to bed and start your next workday. If you’re spending an extended time with family, you might need to think about creating your own routine that allows for downtime—set a bedtime for yourself, let people know that you are winding down for the night, and engage in whatever usual activities help you recover from the day and reset. Just because everyone else stays up until 11pm and engages in non-stop conversation doesn’t mean you have to!
Self-statement for decompressing: It’s normal to feel stressed, exhausted, down, or anxious around the holidays. Making time to decompress is healthy. I saw it in a blog post!
Want to work more in-depth on your coping skills and strategies? Feel like you need a plan tailored to your specific needs? Contact us to explore how therapy can help you build up your self-care & resiliency.