The holidays are always portrayed as a merry, cheerful time, yet not everyone feels that way. Many feel alone and isolated throughout the holiday season. Many people experience increased depression and anxiety during the holidays. Crisis hotlines experience an increase in number of calls, and domestic violence tends to rise.
Our memories of better days, the loss of our loved ones, and financial hardship or job instability can all add to the stress. Sometimes we have to be intentional about caring for ourselves, especially during a stressful holiday season.
While holidays tend to be a time for gathering with friends and family, the overlay of commercialism filters in adding demands on our time, energy, and resources. The added demands of the holiday season wreak havoc on our diets, on our sleep, and on our normal routines.
Many of my patients have admitted that they feel guilty even thinking about self-care. I fly frequently, and every time I do, the flight attendants give an emergency briefing about what to do in the case of an emergency. If the plane were to lose cabin pressure, an oxygen mask will drop down in front of us, and we are to put on our own oxygen mask on first before assisting others.
That goes against the nature of many. It’s part of our nature, for many of us, to take care of those around us first. Christmas is a time for giving, and in many respects, we must intentionally give to ourselves as well so that we are physically and emotionally able to give to others.
13 tips for self-care at Christmas
1. Give yourself permission.
Give yourself permission to take care of your personal needs, permission to decline certain events, permission not to feel pressured to host events, permission not to overspend. In a very real sense, we teach people how to treat us. If we don’t give ourselves permission to do what is best for our physical and emotional well-being, others won’t either.
2. Ask yourself what would help you enjoy the holidays most.
What do you value most? What traditions are important versus those that just add stress? Getting together with certain friends who encourage you may be a better use of your time and energy expenditure than attending a company party with individuals you don’t even enjoy during the work day. Having an unusual dinner menu may be more fulfilling than the traditional Americanized holiday meal, just for the sake of tradition. Find things to look forward to that you do and will enjoy.
3. Make a plan.
When you plan ahead of time what you will do and how much time and energy you will commit, you remain in control of your circumstances and less prone to anxiety and overwhelm. If you’re concerned about being alone during the holidays, initiate plans with others in advance. You can also plan ahead for things like eating a small meal before a party so that you don’t sabotage your weight loss efforts once there. Don’t forget to also make back-up and exit plans.
4. Give yourself limits and boundaries.
Limits and boundaries let you stay engaged, but will lessen the pressure you feel, and grant yourself permission to decline some things. Make a schedule of all the events and activities you’re committed to, as well as others you’ve been invited to but don’t require a firm commitment. When you see what’s on your calendar, it makes it easier to assess what is feasible in terms of your time, energy, and resources. If you decide ahead of time that you can only realistically manage one extra event per week, then it makes it easier for you to take care of yourself and decline any additional invitations.