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Self-Care During The Holidays: Keep The ‘Me’ In Merry

Like many things in 2021, this holiday season is going to be unique. Along with typical holiday stressors such as high expectations, family dynamics, financial difficulties, as well as increased alcohol and food consumption, this season is going to bring its own set of challenges including reduced family gatherings, increased financial pressure, isolation, loss of tradition and more.

Although the holidays are traditionally a season of giving, the first gift you should give should always be to yourself. They say that you can’t ‘pour from an empty cup’ and this remains true over the holiday season. In this article, we will provide you with tips to help you keep the “me” in merry, so that you can make the most of this festive season.

Closeup of a weekly agenda planner and a sharpie on top

Plan Ahead and Schedule Time for Self-Care

Even this year, when we might not have as many activities planned as usual, it’s still easy to get so caught up in the season that you forget to make time for yourself. Along with the other planning you do around the holiday season, it’s also essential that you take time to plan your self-care routine ahead of time. Self-care that is done too late, after stress, negative emotions or burnout has already occurred, is called reactive self-care. We instead suggest that you should strive for proactive self-care, setting aside time to care for yourself in order to avoid stress and burnout.

proactive self-care poster
reactive self-care poster

By planning ahead and scheduling time for self-care whether that be once a day, once a week or a couple times a week (depending on your needs), you’ll be well on your way to a better holiday season. Additionally, just as you wouldn’t want to bail on a friend when you have plans, it’s essential that you stick to your self-care plans no matter what. If something urgent comes up, make sure that the time is rescheduled.

Another way to implement proactive self-care is to write a list of activities that you can engage in during your self-care time. Whether that be reading your favourite book, meditating, taking a nap, exercising or any of the other suggestions we discuss in this article. It’s always helpful to have a plan ahead of time so you don’t feel lost when your self-care time comes around.

Closeup of a to do list being written on a grid paper

Set Priorities

Setting priorities is also another way to engage in proactive self-care. Think about the things that are most important to you this year and set realistic expectations. After you have developed your list of priorities, you can then schedule time to make sure that you achieve them. Here’s some examples:

  • If downtime is most important to you, set aside time in your schedule to read a book.
  • If you’d like to spend time with friends and family (and they are not in your bubble), call them ahead of time and schedule a date for a zoom call.
young woman with tattoos stretching her arm at a kitchen table

Stop Romanticizing the Holidays

Movies, popular culture and social media often romanticize and set ideas of what the holidays are supposed to look like. When you’re feeling pressure to cook the perfect meal, decorate a beautiful holiday home or spend enough money to get a gift, you often set yourself up for increased stress and anxiety.

Additionally, it’s important to acknowledge that the holidays are not a time for togetherness for all. It’s normal to feel loneliness or grief during this season, especially this year with the pandemic among us. You might also have a home where tension and difficult family relationships, paint anything but a perfect holiday picture. Take time to acknowledge your feelings and create a plan for how you will counteract some of these feelings. Check out this article on How to Cope Around Toxic Family During the Holidays for more tips to help you through the holiday season.

Graphic of "no" sign

Say No and Set Boundaries

Boundaries are defined by setting limits and prioritizing your needs and feelings, despite the fact that they might be in opposition to others. Boundaries are important all year long, but are extremely essential over the holiday season.

In order to determine your boundaries, it is helpful to go back to the priorities that you outlined above to see what your goals and desires are for the holiday season, making it easier to say no to things that don’t align with these priorities. Here are some examples of boundary setting during the holidays:

  • Driving in a separate vehicle in case you need to leave
  • Making agreements to avoid hot topics
  • Negotiating time spent with family
  • Not participating in gossip

This year also brings with it a unique set of boundaries in regards to the pandemic.  Always follow government and public health guidelines to avoid the spread. Here are our tips for navigating the holidays during COVID-19:

  • When you are declining an invitation, you don’t need to specify too many details about why you can’t attend—this can come across as accusatory towards your host that they are not following the rules.
  • Express appreciation for the invite.
  • Understand that you’ll likely feel sadness or guilt, but stay firm in your decision
  • If others make you feel bad, ashamed or guilty for not joining, understand that this has nothing to do with you and more about their views on COVID-19.
  • Organize a virtual get-together where everyone stays in their own home and cooks their own meal.
  • Don’t feel bad about cancelling prior engagements you were hosting. Wording such as, “Unfortunately, I am going to have to cancel the event I was previously planning on hosting. Due to COVID, I want to do everything I can to protect you and cancelling at this time is the best way to do that.”
  • Also wrap the cancellation with a sense of hope, “I’m looking forward to the next time we can get together.”
grey cat sleeping with eyes closed on a sheet

Proper Sleep and Physical Activity

Staying active during the holidays is essential. Maintaining good physical health can have a significant impact on mental health. Regular physical exercise is known to improve symptoms of anxiety and depression, reduce stress and increase overall mood. Physical exercise increases the release of endorphins in the brain, which helps to relieve tension in the body and increase mood. Check out these creative ideas for working in physical activity during the holiday season.

Adding some fresh air as well to your regular routine is also particularly beneficial.

Getting good sleep is important all the time, including the holidays. A lack of sleep can make it difficult for you to cope with stress, increase feelings of depression and anxiety and exasperate mental health symptoms. Check out this article for tips on how to deal with holiday sleeping challenges.

close up of empty wine glass on a set up dinner table

Eat and Drink in Moderation

The holidays are often a time where food and drinks are a plenty. Practice moderation, so you’ll feel better about your choices in the morning. For those who are recovering from addiction or have a loved one in the process, check out this article from Social Work Today for how to best handle the holiday season.

Overview of two wrapped Holiday presents

Check In With Your Finances

The act of giving to others does bring us joy, but not if it’s at the expense of our financial health. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to show you care—in fact spending time together (if it is safe to do so) is often more memorable and meaningful than “stuff”. Click here for a holiday budgeting worksheet or search online for one that is best for you.

By practicing these proactive self-care techniques, you’ll be well on your way to having a memorable holiday season.

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