Updated: Dec 18, 2021
The holidays sometimes get painted as this wonderful, touchy-feely time-- delicious feasts, perfectly wrapped gifts, smiling faces. For a lot of folx, this picture doesn't line up with reality. It's ok to acknowledge when the holidays feel hard, and to take care of yourself.
You may be wondering why I’ve written an article on self-care during the holiday season. The answer is: because sometimes the holidays are rough. Yes, they can be joyful, fun, exciting, and they can be rough. For some, they feel lonely and isolating. This could be especially true for LGBTQ folx experiencing rejection and/or misunderstanding, or people who have complicated family or community dynamics. They can also be hard if the money is low and there’s the expectation of lots of gift-giving. Or, if you’re already feeling on edge, and are now planning to orchestrate a huge party, stress could reach a new level. Even for those who mostly enjoy the holidays, there’s still a lot going on- traveling, planning, shopping, cooking, parties, get-togethers...and so on.
In the midst of all of the holiday happenings, it’s easy to lose sight of or touch with ourselves, or feel unhappy, especially when there’s internal or external pressure to do for others. Because of the potential for high stress, the holidays are the perfect opportunity for some self-focus and self-care! Read on for a few things to keep in mind for self-care during the holidays.
1. It’s ok to feel _____. Fill in the blank here: it’s ok to feel whatever you feel. This is important because of the way the holidays can be portrayed, perfect and problem-free. So, if we’re feeling unhappy, we might feel guilty or confused, or tell ourselves we “should” feel something else. It’s ok to feel sad, it’s ok to feel angry, whatever you’re feeling in the moment; give yourself some permission to feel it, and try holding it with mindful compassion. Feelings can signal when something is off or needs to be addressed, so don’t ignore or deny yours just because someone or something has suggested that they’re wrong. Feelings aren’t wrong, they are what they are.
2. It's ok to give to yourself. During the holidays, there are often expectations (these can be our own or others') around investing a lot of time and resources into others. Doing for others doesn’t preclude us from doing nice things for ourselves; like most things in life, it’s a both/and, not an either/or. Especially if we need some refilling. During hard or stressful times, give to yourself, and take care of yourself in the ways that work for you. What uplifts you? You might find that doing something nice for yourself gives you the energy you need to continue doing for others.
3. It’s ok to say no/ set boundaries. This can be a hard one. We’re expected or want to do things for others, but this needn’t be conflated with saying yes to everything, accepting things we’re not really comfortable with, or otherwise bending over backward. Know what your boundaries are, and set them. Setting boundaries with others doesn’t mean you don’t love or care for them; it just means you're caring for yourself and your needs. You can do that, and love others. This can be another both/and (I love both/ands!).
4. FEEL (rather than eat or drink) your feelings. Again, it’s ok to feel_____. When strong emotions come up, it can be really tempting to distract or make ourselves feel better with food. And, if there’s lots of delicious food around, all the easier. I get it. Yes, food can and should be comforting, but be wary of using it as an avoidance tool. If you notice yourself reaching for something to eat or drink in response to difficult feelings, try to make sense of what's going on instead, and plan and act accordingly. Try some mindful eating, it not only helps you to enjoy food’s deliciousness, it can also help you to get in touch with your relationship with food and eating.
One final thing, no matter how you’re feeling- practice some gratitude. And I’m not saying this in a stop-complaining-you-have-so-much-to-be-thankful-for-type-of way. There’s research showing that gratitude can actually improve mental health. One study found that people with and without mental health concerns experienced improved mood after engaging in a gratitude practice, and that practicing gratitude can have effects on the brain! Look for something to give thanks for, no matter how small. It could make a big difference.
I wish you all the peace, abundance, and joy possible, however you spend the holidays! Be well.
Dana L. Collins, PhD (she/her/ hers)
I’m a licensed psychologist, mindfulness meditation teacher, activist, and educator based in Brooklyn and originally from Oakland. As a Black woman, I’ve made it my mission to destigmatize and demystify mental health for BIPOC individuals and communities, and to make wellness practices accessible to us. I spread awareness and promote mental health through writing, teaching, doing therapy, facilitating mindfulness and wellness workshops, community outreach, and advocacy. I find balance by trying new foods, hiking and camping, meditating, reading, and playing video games and spending time with my partner Eddie.