Updated: Nov 28, 2019
Well, here we are again, the holidays have returned like it or not. And if you’re like many of us, all the stress that goes along with them is ramping up and so is your anxiety and depression. You have too much to do and not enough time, energy and desire to participate. Your family and friends are getting annoyingly excited, making plans, hanging Christmas lights, and singing “here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus” much to your dismay. Meanwhile, all you can focus on is trying to stockpile a list of excuses you can use to not participate when the invitations come rolling in. Your new mantra is becoming, “I just have to get through New Year’s Day.” Read: I'm going to stuff everything down and explode as soon as the guests leave and the tree is down.
And holy hell, as if surviving the holidays weren’t enough of a challenge, you also have to come up with one or six New Year's resolutions to add to your stress. This beaut of an age old ritual requires that you completely change your perspective, your habits AND your goals in life LITERALLY over night. I don't know about you but it all makes my head spin. If you were sitting in front of any self-respecting therapist this would be the point at which they would say, “just breathe. Now is the perfect time for self-care.” You hear the words and recognize them, but you are also thinking “what the hell does that mean?” You might also be wondering why you have been seeking help from a crazy person? After all, doesn't your therapist know how very complicated you are and how very complicated your life is?
For some people self-care is as foreign and confusing as Bitcoin. I mean, what exactly is wrong with regular money? I’ll state the obvious here, nothing, there is absolutely nothing wrong with regular money unless of course you don’t have enough of it and you are trying to pretend you do. The same goes for pretending you aren’t grieving the loss of a loved one, a relationship, a job (maybe even your dream job), your sanity. Add in other stressors like work parties and potlucks that include the dreaded White Elephant gift, travel (OMG travel WITH kids!), time with your in-laws (even if you love them), kids being out of school, it being your turn to host family and friends for holiday gatherings, shopping for the perfect gifts, work responsibilities, politics, climate change and the general direction of humanity. You get the point, right? The holidays have become ground zero for increased anxiety, stress, addictions, self-sabotage, illness and depression.
So, what if I were to tell you that as a grown-up YOU get to decide how far down the holiday rabbit hole you are going to go? YOU get to decide what you are willing to do, how, with whom, when to set boundaries, where you are willing to go, how much money you spend, who you buy for and well, basically everything. Yes, you can make healthy decisions for yourself and the best part is that you don’t have to apologize for it. I mean, I’m not suggesting that you become the verbal or emotional equivalent of a pyromaniac on a gasoline bender and you shouldn't try to be kind, but you really - and I can’t stress this enough - aren’t required to do or participate in anything you don’t want to, despite all those years of tradition, expectations or guilt that have been programmed into your very delicate hippocampus. Part of self-care is setting boundaries. In fact, I would argue the most important part. I'm also going to give you a heads up right now that when you start setting boundaries, some people aren’t going to like it. You will unwittingly be the embodiment of The Grinch. It’s really important that you stand up for your needs early though and stick to your word. It’s equally important to let others express their disappointment while STILL standing up for your needs.
Now, in the event that you have read this far in the hopes that someone can finally explain what the hell self-care is, here are a few examples:
1. Stay connected to your body. If you exercise regularly don’t stop because you “don’t have time.” You have made time in the past and you KNOW that you feel good when you give this to yourself (Ugh, that one hits hard for me. Yes, even therapists have difficulty taking care of ourselves.)
2. Make sure to get the amount of sleep that works for you. Everyone is a little different when it comes to sleep. There is no such thing as “catching up on sleep.” You have either slept enough or you haven’t. Sleep is not something you store up for the future, so when you are overly tired you and the rest of your life will suffer.
3. Stop eating and drinking your feelings! Sure, they taste better as peanut butter fudge, tamales, pecan pie and eggnog, but seriously you will only add insult to injury when you can’t fit into your ugly sweater. Oh, and drink water. A lot of it.
4. Take a little time to just sit quietly, sit still, breathe deeply and slowly and get off of your phone. Yes, I do know what I am suggesting to you and how ridiculous this sounds. Trust me, just try.
5. Talk about your feelings with people you feel safe to be vulnerable with. Grief is hard enough to carry as it is and pretending that you aren’t affected by it is just dangerous, plain and simple. Oh, and grief doesn’t always “look” like grief. Sometimes it actually looks like resentment, frustration, guilt, fear, embarrassment and anger. Now is a very good time to "talk about it don't be about it."
6. Learn to say “no.” It’s okay to say no to things you’re not interested in, don’t have resources to do, don’t have energy for, etc. People have heard no before and their lives go on. Conversely, sometimes you can say “yes” to things. Trying new things can be empowering and rejuvenating.
7. Set limits. Remember that rabbit hole I mentioned earlier? Well, setting limits means you get to decide how far you fall. It’s definitely going to feel uncomfortable and impossible at first, but I promise you can do it and the sky won’t fall. You can set limits with your time, money, how many decorations you put up, who is invited to dinner (I’m talking to you uncle Barry! Just joking. I don’t have an uncle Barry), how much time you spend on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. Oh my, how I love Pinterest, but it’s sort of the ultimate rabbit hole of endless ideas of ALLL the things I want to do and don’t have time for, which add to the belief that I'm a failure. You get the picture.
8. Take time to pamper yourself! I mean, we all run around trying to do nice things for others and we totally forget about ourselves. YOU MATTER TOO! If that means you want to take a 2-hour bubble bath, go hiking, meet a friend for lunch, take a mental health day from work and NOT use it to run errands all day that's fine. Maybe you want to spend a day in your PJ’s and binge watch Grey’s Anatomy in preparation for upcoming events? Just do it!
9. Fire up your belief system. If that means going to church, temple or a mosque, then do it. You could meditate in the backyard, or volunteer your time for an organization or cause that makes you feel good. If doing something to awaken your spiritual self feels good, do it.
10. Allow yourself to make changes as needed. This might require taking a harder look at your priorities, goals, relationships and previous experiences. It might mean learning to let something go or it might mean asking for help. Maybe your New Year’s resolution could be reaching out for professional help…and I happen to know a good therapist.
So basically, the holidays can be stressful and can derail your sense of normalcy (in case I wasn’t clear), but only to the extent you allow them to. This can also be a wonderful time of year with opportunities to spend time with family and friends, try out some new recipes, and be generous with your time and kindness - especially to yourself.