“Keep Calm and Get Your Ho Ho Ho On!”
Disclaimer: I am a therapist, mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend, and I wear many other hats. And I am actually writing this article for myself. Like you, I am also human. And I need to be reminded on some tips for self-care during the ubiquitously frenzied holiday season. Please join me as I spell it out for us:
Well, the holidays actually technically started October 31 (Halloween in U.S.) and for many, the holidays carry on through the new year. So for a lot of us, we are already thick in the season. Generally speaking, Western cultures crank it up a notch further (starting the day after Halloween) with everything from Christmas Tree scented bathroom spray to peppermint mocha mayhem. If you aren’t ill from over-indulging in candy-canes or other seasonal delights, you are an anomaly. Surely, the holidays can be a fun time. But, they can also bring up a ton of stress, especially for parents who are juggling work and family obligations and sometimes multi-generational needs, while simultaneously putting food on the table and keeping a roof over one’s head.
So, I am dedicating this blog post to assist us all with friendly reminders for self-care and stress reduction during the holiday season:
Tip 1: Get sleep. Studies show human beings need at least five consecutive hours of restorative sleep to generate a full sleep cycle and thus, keep serotonin (the neurotransmitter that regulates mood) at a decent level (Kendall-Tackett, 2017). No sleep and you are seriously on your way to being Grinch Personified. If you are having difficulty for a medical reason (depression, anxiety, trauma, new baby, etc)…please contact your general practitioner for a consultation regarding potential supplements or sleep aids, if needed.
Tip 2: Keep healthy snacks at the ready. Believe me, I know how hard it is to bypass the delicious gingerbread men or latkes at the employee lounge table. And give yourself permission to indulge a little bit with a nibble here or there. If you are worried about over-indulging, fill up with high quality proteins (almonds, walnuts, Greek yogurt) and chopped veggies/fruits before going to a holiday party.
Tip 3: Be okay with saying “no.” In other words, don’t over-extend, or you will set your self up for burn-out and a lowered immune system, rendering yourself susceptible to the flu and other nasty seasonal germs. For those with family relations where there is toxic communication, the individual may want to consider Limited Contact or No Contact (consult with a trauma-informed therapist if needed).
Tip 4: Be prepared for prior losses/traumas to surface: Most people have experienced loss and/or trauma in their lifetime. The holidays can be a great distraction from the heartache of such emotional pain, or conversely, the holidays can trigger those losses to resurface. If the latter is the case for you, see a trauma-informed therapist, attend a bereavement support group, surround yourself with authentic friendships and caring family.
Tip 5: Exercise. Better yet, do it in nature. Studies show the benefit of hiking particularly. We all know that exercise is good for our physical health, and many of us notice we feel better emotionally when we are exercising due to the lovely endorphins and serotonin-boost that circulate in our systems as a result. Physical release of any held tension is fabulous for brain health (van der Kolk, 2015).
Tip 6: Meditate. Studies back up the psychological benefit of clearing out mind clutter and also engaging in practices such as yoga which harness the breath and bring mindfulness to the front and center (van der Kolk, 2015).
Tip 7: Keep a budget. Banish guilt. Think of handmade gift items, experiences, charity donations, etc. as options for gifts. Be happy when you don’t have a horrid credit card bill come January.
Tip 8: Volunteer. Serve a meal in a homeless shelter. Donate canned goods or used items to a local charity. Ask your child(ren)’s teachers what they need for their classrooms and provide some school supplies.
Tip 9: Slow Down. Be intentional and mindful. Ask yourself: Is what I am doing healthy, beneficial to myself or to someone I love, within my budget, not taxing my reserves in any way? You have choice. Think through whatever decision is before you, whether it is purchasing the latest hot gadget, imbibing that cup of rum-filled egg-nog, or attending the third holiday party in one week. You have choice.
Tip 10: Enjoy. Take in some holiday lights, savor a cup of hot cocoa by the fire with loved ones, engage in the spirit of Danish hyggae (close connected-ness with loved ones often surrounding shared food and fireplace), take time to savor the scenes and senses that accompany this time of year. Give yourself permission to enjoy. You deserve it.
Retrieved from (2017) Kendall-Tackett, Kathleen: uppitysciencechick.com
van der Kolk, Bessel (2015). The body keeps the score, Penguin Books.
Photo by Sarah_Ackerman