I’m a small-town California girl turned mental health therapist. Favorite things: babies (but don’t have my own!), comfy pants, and taking too many pictures. I'm all about realistic self-care, mental health for everyone, and personal growth even if you hate that phrase (cause I do!).
Use this free 2 min assessment to take a fresh look at how you're doing.
I don’t know about you, but I just looked at the calendar and realized the holidays are coming QUICK! So I’ve been thinking about self-care a lot, with the holidays approaching. As a therapist, I know that winter and the holidays are known for increasing stress, lowering mood, more frequent + intense reminders of trauma and loss, body image and eating challenges, increased conflict and family dysfunction, and greater vulnerability to mental health issues you may already deal with. So while there can be merry and bright days…
It can also be…. a lot.
But rather than letting the season happen to us, I think there’s power in thinking ahead and asking ourselves some hard questions. Our best tool for managing the unique challenges of this season is to be aware + prepared. In this post, I’m breaking down my biggest tips for both adapting your self-care practice to the season, and how to navigating complex family relationships during the holidays.
Self-care isn’t always on the top of our holiday list, but it should be –– especially if you have complicated family relationships like many people do. So why is self-care often overlooked during the holidays? The problem is two-fold: it’s hard to remember, and our needs are different.
I know how it is: traveling, staying with family, not being at home, being around different people, having a different schedule, a different environment. All these changes mean we’ve gotta up our self-care game.
Make a list of your go-to tools for self-care for easy reference. Schedule relaxing or restorative self-care activities as prevention. Get creative. Bring comforting objects (like your favorite blanket or candle).
Sure, unexpected invitations might come up, but for the most part your plans can be pretty predictable. Looking at your schedule ahead of time helps reduce ambiguous anxiety. It also gives you a sense of control over your plans, and helps you prepare. None of us want the holidays to steamroll us, but we can avoid that if we take a few minutes to jot down any events, parties, or plans you have coming up.
Visualizing your schedule helps avoid overdoing it. It’s incredibly stressful to realize you’ve overbooked yourself (or even double-booked!). Looking at plans ahead of time gives you the opportunity to shift your itinerary as needed. You can intentionally make plans that you know will be uplifting to help you through.
Think about previous holidays and what went wrong. What were the most difficult parts? What was the most draining or exhausting? What factors played a role in conflict or difficulties that arose? Figure out what situations, comments, emotions, or behaviors are triggering for you. Being aware of these triggers gives you more opportunity to prepare.
You don’t have to go along with what everyone else is doing. You can engage in your own holiday traditions or rituals. Baking cookies, looking at holiday lights, making gifts, attending a religious service, or a New Years Day Hike. Make a list of activities you would like to do and who you can invite to join you. It’s okay if you don’t do them all. Simply having your own plans and traditions for the holiday season is empowering and helps give you a sense of needed independence from your family. Even with family obligations, you can try to craft some of your own holiday memories.
It’s is also important to check your expectations for the holidays. Don’t expect that all previous conflicts, tension, or behaviors will disappear. We hope for the best, but also prepare for the worst.
A season so focused on family can bring up feelings of sadness, anger, or loneliness. Notice these feelings and express them in healthy and appropriate ways. Allow yourself to grieve not having the experiences or relationships you’d like. Make space for grief over lost loved ones––light a candle or make a toast or visit their grave. Allow yourself to connect with the loss.
You have the right to be respected, valued, and feel safe (emotionally + physically) at all times. You can’t control the actions or emotions of others, but only how you act and respond. Boundaries are part of every relationship. If you have family members who have a history hurting or abusing you in any way, boundaries are crucial. Boundaries are how you express what is and is not okay when relating with you–– what you will and won’t accept. Identify the family members that cause you harm. Limit how much time you spend with them. Establish what topics you are not comfortable discussing with them.
When a harmful comment or behavior comes up, use an I-statement with a request:
The purpose of boundaries is to promote healthy interactions as much as possible. But sometimes it doesn’t happen. If someone doesn’t respect your boundary, you can remove yourself from the situation or the relationship. Remember, managing difficult relationships is complicated. This is a journey, so be gentle with yourself as you learn new skills or try changing your responses.
If you know you are going into a family event that has potential for conflict or triggering you, consider an escape plan of how you will remove yourself if needed. With that in mind, avoiding drugs + alcohol may be a good idea in case of need to leave. Give yourself permission ahead of time to end a conversation, take a break, or leave a room or situation as needed. This is part of maintaining your boundaries.
The holidays can be the busiest time of the year, and it takes intention to keep a slow pace. Allow for ample margin in your schedule. Adjust your plans if needed––it’s okay to decline an invite. Don’t accept an invitation right away, but instead give yourself even a few moments alone to check-in.
Small rituals can help us slow down, too, such as pausing before entering a party or a new room during an event, taking our time while using the restroom, and remembering to take deep breaths when you drink fluids (p.s. don’t forget to drink water!). Planning for more time in your nightly routine to decompress and process.
Talk to a trusted friend or loved one about what you might experience during the holidays and how they can help. Share your self-care plans. Consider scheduling phone calls or calling/texting them if you feel overwhelmed.
If you don’t have someone in your life like this there are other options. Leverege social media in your favor. Join a facebook support group. Save the numbers for various hotlines in your phone in case of a crisis. You don’t have to do this alone!
Because I’m a nerd and like to make this as straightforward and helpful as possible, I made a self-care assessment to get you started. Click here or the image below. Take care!
by Kylie |
November 16, 2018
© Tend and Mend, Kylie Bennett 2019.
I'm Kylie. I’m a small-town California girl turned mental health therapist. Favorite things: babies (but don’t have my own!), comfy pants, and taking too many pictures. I'm all about realistic self-care, mental health for everyone, and personal growth even if you hate that phrase (cause I do!).