The best gift you can give your friends and families during the holidays is a rested and relaxed you. As Vivian and Kit from the movie Pretty Woman would respond to each other in unison, “Take Care of You.”
As a counselor, I frequently talk to people about the importance of selfcare. In general, attention to selfcare helps to build self-esteem and aids in the prevention of things like depression and anxiety. With the holidays quickly approaching, I would like to suggest that self-care is more important than ever during this busy season.
The holidays are meant to be happy, fun times, but they often become overwhelmingly stressful. The mental health field tends to see an increase in people seeking help following the holiday season. So if the holidays are supposed to be times of relaxation and cheer, why do they have the tendency to cause such chaos, and what can we do to prevent becoming overwhelmed?
During the holidays additional tasks such as arranging travel plans, hosting guests, planning and preparing large meals, and picking out perfect gifts, are added to the usual to-do list. This is especially true for already busy moms. With all these extra responsibilities to prepare for the holidays, self-care and leisure activities tend to take a back burner. The problem with forgoing self-care activities is that you risk burning out. To highlight this, I like to remember the analogy of the oxygen masks on the airplane: flight attendants tell you to secure your own oxygen mask before helping others. This is because if you run out of oxygen, you will be unavailable to help anyone else. Similarly, if you expend all your energy making everything perfect for the holidays while sacrificing important downtime for yourself, you risk becoming overwhelmed, which can ultimately make you irritable, grumpy and unable to properly enjoy the festivities.
As you go about your holiday preparations, remember the importance of self-care. Set aside some time for yourself and take time out to do things you enjoy. Just ten minutes a day can be helpful and can make a big difference in terms of whether or not you become overwhelmed. While you are running around shopping for gifts, make time to stop and sit down to enjoy a cup of coffee. If you feel overwhelmed by family and houseguests, take some time out each day to be alone and do something just for you, like reading a book or listening to music. Self-care activities can be simple and don’t necessarily require a lot of time. The important thing is that you make sure to do one small thing every day just for you. Doing so will help you to regroup and allow you to go back to your tasks or festivities feeling refreshed.
Be careful of letting normally pleasurable activities become hassles due to your busy schedule and increased stress level. Try to reframe certain endeavors from being seen as chores to being enjoyable self-care activities. For example, instead of thinking, “I have to get a pedicure before the Christmas party,” consider the pedicure something relaxing that you are choosing to do for yourself rather than something you must check off your list of things to do. Instead, tell yourself, “I’m going to take time out to get a pedicure and relax.” This change of approach can make a big difference in terms of viewing tasks as gratifying rather than burdensome.
Another important part of self-care and avoiding burnout includes ensuring that you do not overextend yourself. Avoid the tendency to say yes to everything and make sure you do not spread yourself too thin. This may mean saying no to volunteering at the holiday bake sale, declining to attend a holiday event, or opting for a store-bought versus home-baked cake. When you take care to protect your time, you feel more in control and have more energy available.
Balancing self-care time during the holidays may be especially difficult for perfectionists who feel pulled to ensure that every aspect of the holidays is perfect. While a pristine house, impeccably wrapped packages and perfectly cooked turkeys are nice, it’s the traditions and quality family time that are most meaningful and memorable – especially to children. When it comes to gifts, decorations and meals, the old saying, “It’s the thought that counts” really does ring true. Try relaxing your standards slightly and making self-care a priority among all your holiday preparations. Chances are self-care will help you to feel more balanced, allowing you to enjoy the holidays rather than finding them exhausting.
To ensure that self-care will be a part of your day, consider ways that you can work it into your routine. For example, devote some time first thing every morning or at the end of every day to doing something relaxing or enjoyable. Or pay attention to times you feel anxious, stressed, or tense and make a point to stop what you are doing and take a self-care break. It’s best to have several self-care activities to choose from. This gives you variety and allows for options based on what resources and time you have available in a given moment.
As you are making your grocery and gift lists this year, take some time to make a list of your favorite self-care activities. Remembering to practice these self-care activities is one of the best gifts you can give yourself this holiday season.