You sit on the sofa next to the warm, crackling fire. The lights on the Christmas tree are beautiful. The ornaments you made as a young child still hang on several limbs. You smile as you watch your nieces and nephews play noisily on the floor. Your sister is snuggled up in her husband’s arms. Your parents are working together in the kitchen preparing dinner. You can smell the aroma of honey-baked ham and apple pie. As you glance around your childhood home, you reminisce about the hopes and dreams you had as a youngster. The tears catch you by surprise and you try to wipe them away before anyone notices. This warm, inviting environment quickly turns to ice as you become painfully aware of the depth of loss and disappointment you are feeling. Suddenly, you feel the desire to run.
The holidays can be a time of fun and joy, but it can also be a time of intense pain. Being together with family can remind you of what you want or what you had and lost. While it’s important to treasure your time with your family at this time of year, it is also important to acknowledge that it can be very painful. Practicing self-care becomes essential to not just surviving but truly enjoying the beauty of this holiday season.
Self-Care Check List:
- Take time for yourself. Between shopping and parties and work and last minute crisis, this time of year stretches you to your max. You need to schedule time for yourself. This is especially true if you are traveling to visit friends or family. Protect “me time”. You need at least 30 minutes every day.
- Make room for grief. If you are missing a loved one who has passed or a loved one who is no longer part of your life, allow yourself time to sit with your grief. Share memories. Plan something special to remember them. Joy and grief can exist in the same space. Don’t try to hide or ignore the grief or pretend the person didn’t exist. Invite them into your celebration.
- Manage difficult interactions with family members by having a check-in buddy. Try to minimize your interactions with family members who are toxic or who are difficult to get along with. Set up check-in meetings with a close friend so you can vent through a phone call or text throughout the event. This can help alleviate the stress you feel during the interaction.
- Enjoy the amazing food and festivities, but be mindful of how you indulge. Don’t overdo it. Often when we feel sad, depressed, or frustrated we give ourselves permission to self-medicate with too much sugar, alcohol, or drugs. Stay in control and you will not have regrets once the celebrations are over.
- If you have children, spend time with them. See the magic of the season through their eyes. Get lost in the wonder and amazement of seeing the lights on houses, visiting Santa at the mall, going caroling, building gingerbread houses, and snuggling by the fire.
- Practice gratitude. Research shows that simply asking yourself: what am I grateful for? increases dopamine and serotonin levels. If you can’t find an answer to that question, don’t worry. Simply pondering it is enough to begin to build stronger positive emotional pathways in your brain.
- Let go of the ideal. Stop comparing your reality with everyone else’s and feeling like a failure for it. Embrace your situation with all its quirks, benefits, and drawbacks. It is uniquely yours. Stay off of social media during the holidays if the temptation to compare yourself to others is too great.
- Get grounded. Every day, spend at least five minutes grounding yourself. Use all five of your senses. In the shower, feel the water as it runs down your back. Put on your favorite music. Inhale the smell of your favorite soap or body wash. Take a sip of your morning tea or coffee. Be in the moment. Quiet. Focused. You can do this any time during your day. Grounding helps you manage your stress. It can stop a panic attack. It can help you with depression.
- Create new, self-supportive traditions. If doing things the way they’ve always been done causes you more stress and harm than joy and peace–change it! If making your Christmas dinner from scratch makes life too hard, figure out something else. If traditions started with your ex-husband are too painful, start a new tradition. Make sure everything you choose to participate in meets your needs. Traditions are only useful and good if they bring happy memories and experiences. If they don’t, change them.
- Listen to your body. If you are exhausted and empty, you will not be able to give anything to anyone else. You will also not be able to enjoy the moment. It is ok to skip a party (or two). It is ok to give a gift card instead of running yourself ragged trying to find that “perfect” gift. Put yourself first. You need sleep, exercise, healthy food, and time to yourself to tend to your emotional needs. If you have children, this is even more important because they will need you to be at your best.
While self-care is important all year round, it is essential during the holiday season when you have additional stress on your shoulders. For those who are single, the holidays are a reminder that you don’t quite fit into “family” celebrations and this can be quite painful. In order to enjoy these moments to their fullest, make time to care for yourself. Give yourself permission to feel sadness amidst the joy. Treasure the moments life gives you and enjoy this holiday season!