There’s something about the holidays that can amp things up; family, old memories, things unspoken, even movies designed to cheer us up, in which everything ends up perfect and wrapped up with a bow, but leaves us feeling less-than by comparison.
Many people have to also deal with grief, the ghosts of trauma past and life challenges, and all these things can add up to a stressful holiday period. So I’ve put together a simple guide with suggestions for making self-care a priority throughout your holiday season.
- Think about any pressures you’re putting yourself under.
These may be unspoken, or things we’re unaware of. Are you pressuring yourself to provide others with a certain experience, buy the perfect gifts, do things a certain way, be with certain people?
Consider if all/ any of these pressures are necessary. It may help to think about why them seem necessary, and then gently challenge that thought. The underlying impulse may be good, but does it need to look exactly the way you think, or be achieved in the way you’re planning? Is there a way that feels better to you (perhaps lower stress, less expensive or more genuine to you)?
2. Consider what stresses you’re anticipating.
That’s the thing with long-term friends and family isn’t it? We usually already know what they do that stresses us out, and often just anticipating that causes stress in advance. If there’s anything specific you’re worried about happening, see if you can create an alternative plan, boundaries, a get-out clause or pre-emptively communicate to see if you can lessen the stress and boost your feeling of safety and relaxation.
3. Consider which expectations are unhealthy.
Unrealistic expectations are the hallmark (excuse the pun) of Christmas movies, so it’s normal to feel a heightened sense of expectation and even fear of disappointment already.
This can be especially hard for anyone who’s experienced trauma – i.e. the idea you “should” be with your family of origin (even if that is painful for you). What expectations are you trying to live up to? And do any of them require you to abandon yourself in some way to achieve them? This is not just for trauma survivors, we all experience social pressures that can make us forget about ourselves.
There may be a more genuine way to honour your expectations and wants this holiday season. It may not look like a perfect Christmas movie, but being genuine starts within. You can consider what an expectation’s best intention is and then a way to meet it in the way that allows all of you to show up. For example, from the social expectation that you should be with your family or origin, you can take the message that you should be kind-hearted and loyal. Then you can consider: who do I genuinely want to be kind-hearted and loyal towards, and how would I like to show that this holiday season? Or who do I feel deserves my kindness and loyalty, and how do I want to express that?
4. Create pockets of time and space
This can be especially important for introverts, but we all need our version of this. If you know you need alone time for at least an hour every day, set that up right from the start of a visit. If you know you need physical space, make sure you take that time for yourself. You can use an excuse, such as I just started walking an hour a day and I like to do it alone, or you can be brutally honest; I love you, but I need an hour alone every day to feel good. Think about what will help you to stay present and happy through the holidays and ways to set those boundaries in advance.
5. What do you want from the holidays?
Expectations and pressures are rife, and it may feel like we already know what we want from the holidays – the perfect Christmas meal/ time with loved ones/ time off work/ playing a computer game non-stop etc. But it’s easy to assume we know what we want, without actually considering it.
So, take a moment to think about what the ideal would be. Lots of baths, walks, talks, food, friends, laughter, games, sleep, cuddles, books, learning a skill, exploring a new place. Bear in mind it doesn’t have to be what is expected of you. When you know your top goals, you can put some things in place to increase the likelihood of getting what you need. Remember not to try pressure others in trying to meet your needs without communication though. They may not be in a place where they can meet them.
The need for Self Care is magnified when our lives are magnified
By which I mean that our lives can take on an intensity or a high level of scrutiny over the holidays, which can end up making us feel overwhelmed, disappointed or down.
I believe a large part of this stress comes from the pressure of trying to meet social expectations or our own expectations in a way that forces us to abandon parts of ourselves, whether that is aspects of our personality, boundaries, or important aspects of our lifestyles. Of course relationship is about compromise, but people who love you also want all of you to show up.
I love the magic of the holidays, the movies and the general spirit of it. But, like a great pair of jeans it is meant to fit us, not the other way around. It is meant to help us by giving us something to look forward to and reminding us of all the good things in life. It often backfires when we hold up our lives to a false ideal, and leaves us feeling disappointed. So, when you consider your self care this holiday season, you might want to think about what makes life special to you, and how you can celebrate that in a way that feels right and good to you personally. Happy holidays!