10 small but effective self-care tips for the holiday season
The holiday season, time to spend with your loved ones, the sharing of gifts, the Christmas feast and cheerful Christmas carols, what isn’t there to love? For many, this is the case, Christmas is the highlight of the year, and the Christmas tree and decorations are one of many holiday milestones to look forward to. For others, the very thought of Christmas can cause stress and anxiety. Gone are the carefree holidays found in childhood, instead the intrusion of anxious thoughts, health palpitations, and a never-ending list of things to do to ensure everyone else has the perfect Christmas.
If you are reading this and your anxiety is starting to rise, take a breath and keep reading. We have ten suggestions of things you can do during the holiday season to take care of your mental health.
Take time out for yourself.
The list of things to do during the holiday season is endless; the tree, the decorations, the food, the childcare, the work parties, and navigating family politics. Society has decided that being selfless is an admirable characteristic. Putting others before you is exhausting and can harm your mental health. During this holiday season, take time for yourself. It doesn’t have to involve planning; go for a walk, watch a cheesy movie, read a book or grab a coffee with a friend.
You don't have to look far to see the pictures of Christmas perfection. The in-sync family choreography on TikTok. The beautiful family with matching Christmas pyjamas on Instagram and the posts on Facebook of Christmas family outings, with all members smiling and having excessive levels of fun. It’s human to want to meet those ideals. Who doesn’t want everyone around them to be happy and have the perfect holiday? However, perfection is rarely attainable. We can cause mental harm to ourselves and others in striving for perfection. If you feel that you are Christmas high achiever, well done, recognition is the first step. Next, the challenge is to do something imperfectly. Start small; maybe you could place a non-matching decoration on the tree, give less than 100% to a task or perhaps take a shortcut.
Set boundaries and say no to things
Know what you and your family need to be happy and healthy, and stick to it. Refrain from putting pressure on yourself to go beyond your needs. You don’t need to buy the same expensive item your friend is buying. You don’t need to go out in the cold and rain to visit the same Christmas market as everyone else.
Listen to your feelings - if something comes up over the holidays and you don't want to do it, then listen to your intuition, honour these feelings and don’t do it.
Chat with your partner to get on the same page regarding holiday expectations. Agree ahead of time about what events you will commit to, what the season will look like and what presents you will purchase.
Delegate The Cognitive Load and Christmas Tasks
The cognitive load over Christmas is enormous, as is the number of tasks that come from all that thinking and planning. First, write a list of all the things that need to be done at Christmas. Then Identify which items on your list you will do and those you will delegate. It would be good to sit with others during this time to start sharing the cognitive load early. Once you have identified who is doing each task, explain why this job is important and that they have full responsibility and the free reign to do it their way. The next step is crucial and perhaps the hardest. You need to walk away from that item and trust the person you have delegated the job to. Finally, give praise when tasks are completed, even if it’s not how you would have done it.
Like any other stressful and emotionally charged event, Christmas can take its toll on sleep. Sleep is essential to support our mental health. So what can we do to sleep during this busy holiday season?
Give yourself time to sleep. It's easy to prioritise anything else than sleep, like making Christmas cake and wrapping presents. Set yourself a schedule. Think of yourself like a baby who needs sleep training. Recognise what will help you sleep and create that routine; what time will you stop caffeine intake? Will you have a warm bath? Perhaps some warm milk? Try no screen time?
Keep away from the blue screen; Netflix, Candy Crush and Instagram are not your friends before you go to bed. Stick to the routine above, reach for a book or listen to calming music.
Move all Christmas things out of your room, and make it a calm place, an escape from the season. Think of your bedroom as setting the scene for sleep.
Take care of alcohol consumption and caffeinated drinks. Both can get you up during the night to use the bathrooms, and alcohol can cause dehydration which makes for disturbed sleep. For some, caffeine can cause high alert levels, which decreases the chance of sleep.
Finally, listen to your body, and sleep when you are tired. Do not power through to get another job ticked off the list. Sleep is just as important, if not more so than a ‘successful’ Christmas.
Eat well and at a decent time.
Food is linked to all sorts of anxiety and mental health conditions, so we will take care in what we say. Christmas can be a glutinous time for some. Think of yourself as a mogwai (90’s Gremlin reference). Do not eat too late! Eating a lot of carbs before you go to bed will increase your temperature as your body works hard to break food down, making it difficult to sleep. Lying down after eating can also cause GERD or heartburn.
Sometimes Christmas can mean managing complicated relationships and difficult conversations. If you know these are on the horizon for you and are making you anxious, here is some advice to help you out.
Write down the questions or conversations you are anxious about and plan your answers or how you might end the conversation ahead of time.
Think of a distraction you could instigate. Is there a game or an activity that could ease or redirect the negative energy in the room?
Talk to others ahead of time. Other people may have been through similar experiences and have good advice.
Talk to an ally who will also be with you during the holiday season and can support you through this time. They may also be able to shield you from negative conversations by creating a conversation diversion or giving you an escape route from the room.
Plan ahead of time
Recognise what causes you the most stress and anxiety during the holiday season and plan for what you will do. Think about what you are going to need to cope. Do you need a place to take time out, a support person, or a distraction such as a hobby you can do to give you a mental escape? Think about what has helped you before and could help you again. If you cannot be with a supportive person, can you call them when things get too much? Do you have a connection to a supportive group/community online? If you are going somewhere unfamiliar this Christmas and it's causing you anxiety, can you take something with you that will bring some familiarity to the situation?
Before the holidays start, organise a good support group around you. Do you have a friend(s) you can visit or call to distract and support you? Have you explored Facebook for communities that struggle with a specific mental health issue or Christmas anxiety? Have a list of phone numbers for helplines you can call or text when things are too much. Talk to the people around you during the holiday season about how you feel. Let them know if there is something you need them to stop doing or start doing. More often than not, they do not realise the impact they are having on you.
Replace the Christmas carols with a mantra.
Think of a Christmas carol that is a real earworm, such as Jingle Bells and set it to a mantra that can help you get through Christmas. Choose a mantra that speaks to you and how you feel about or around Christmas;
I deserve a good holiday too
I too, can take a break and have a rest
I have done the best I can at this time
I am perfectly imperfect, as is my family
I am allowed to say no; boundaries are my right
I will not wait for permission to take care of myself
I have the strength to excuse myself from negative interactions
I will not jump to conclusions but rather examine the evidence in front of me
I am breathing in, and I am breathing out
This holiday season is temporary
A mantra is a chance to refocus, break the cycle of anxiety and decrease heart rate, slow breathing and relax muscles.
Whatever you do this Christmas, remember to do what’s best for your mental health. Unlike a puppy, a counsellor can be just for Christmas.
Call us on 0274154715 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to book an appointment this holiday season.