How to Care for Yourself during the Holiday Season

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The holiday season is here, and while it can be a season full of happiness and cheer, it can also be a difficult time for many. It is not unusual to receive advice from professionals, family, friends and the media, that recognizes the individual stresses that one may experience during the season. Our society often does not put enough emphasis on the importance of acknowledging and recognizing individual’s feelings especially during difficult time like holidays.

Unrealistic expectations may be a major reason for problems during the holidays. To help manage these high expectations, it is important to plan for the holidays as you do for other parts of your life. What does planning involve? Just as you would budget for financial costs or plan a vacation, consider taking out a piece of paper or use your computer to list possible holiday stressors, reasons associated with these feelings, and what steps you may take to reduce your stress and manage your feelings.

Some items on your list may include:

  1. Family disagreements. Family dynamics can be a key area of stress during the holidays. We often think that what is presented in movies like “It’s a Wonderful Life” and Peanuts Cartoon specials is what we should expect in our lives during the holiday season. Actually, the movie “It a Wonderful Life” portrays many family struggles and issues. Our holidays may be more like the horror movie “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” where family members and friends contribute to fear and anxiety. Even if you know that certain topics will be discussed that will cause you angst, including politics, family grudges, etc., try to plan ways of avoiding these discussions. Try not to answer certain questions and, if possible, use neutral answers like, “everyone has different ways of looking at that issue.” You could also try to change topics to areas of interest to most people, for example asking about vacation plans or favorite TV shows and movies.
  2. Give yourself gifts. This is not typical advice that you may receive. During difficult and stress-filled times, you need to treat yourself. Often basic or simple gifts are the most helpful. At the same time, there is nothing wrong with buying yourself a well-deserved gift, eating a special food, planning a trip, etc.
  3. Plan restorative activities. During the holidays choose a new book to read, movies to watch, or television series to follow. Consider avoiding emotional holiday films and select comedies or other genres to distract from the seasonal stress. Also engage in healthy activities, including walking, listening to music, taking a yoga class or listening to relaxation exercises and start using deep breathing a few times a day. There are a number of free relaxation apps on your computer or cell phone and relaxation series available on cable television.
  4. Walk away from confrontations. If not possible, engage in relaxation and/or mindfulness techniques.
  5. Reach out to others. Connect with others whom you relate to and who help you feel comfortable about yourself. This may include contacting a friend, neighbor or family member.
  6. Help others. Find a way to give back to those that are alone or chronically ill. You may volunteer at a food bank, deliver meals to house-bound individuals, or donate to a charity that helps individuals in need during the holidays.
  7. BE KIND TO YOURSELF! Realize that the holidays will come and go. You will survive.