Not so Merry? Make the Season Brighter with these Holiday Self-care Tips

February 9, 2022

As Christmas songs play in the background, and your family gathers around the fire, you are internally stressing about the money you’ve spent on presents and the roast in the oven? Why are the holidays so challenging for mental health? 

In your view, everything was supposed to be perfect this year, but you feel overwhelmed and totally stressed out.

Perfection is one of the primary triggers during the holiday season. For an entire year, you have been looking forward to the rest and relaxation over your December holidays. But, Christmas and New Years are a hectic time, filled with too many invitations, too many family members, and are a far cry from the rest and relaxation you’ve been craving.

If you find yourself struggling with anxiety and depression this holiday season, how can you make it through the storm to come? You need a wellbeing checklist and self-care, baked right into the schedule alongside the cookies and fruitcakes. 

Creating a Wellbeing Checklist

No doubt you’ve heard about wellbeing checklists by now. With today’s heightened focus on self-care and wellbeing, everyone is diving into essential oils, steam baths, and yoga retreats. 

But what these trends fail to talk about is how wellbeing looks entirely different for everyone. Can you imagine your father taking an essential oil-infused bath for his health and wellbeing? Many of these trends don’t speak to how each of us recharges.

In preparation for this holiday season, it’s time to put your personal stamp on wellness. What does it look like for you? What makes you deeply happy? Not all self-care regimes need steamy baths and yoga retreats. Give yourself a 10-minute break this season before it gets started. Ask yourself the following ten questions to work.

  1. How much water do you need to drink in a day?
  2. What foods make you feel good?
  3. What environments make you feel comfortable?
  4. Do social situations fill you up, or drain you?
  5. How much exercise in a week (in a day) do you require?
  6. If you had an entire evening alone, without responsibilities, what would you do?
  7. What activities get you into flow state (think dancing, drawing, playing, music)?
  8. What are people in your inner circle challenging to spend time with? Which people make you feel good?
  9. How do you find peace?
  10.  How much sleep do you need?

When answering these questions, go with your gut reaction. Don’t overthink the answers. If a steam bath is what you need to recharge, that’s precisely what you need. Or, if you instantly think about spending hours lost on a carpentry project in the garage, maybe that’s how you fill up your wellness cup.

Remember, we are all different. 

What is soothing and recharging for one person will be entirely different for another. Introverts and extroverts are different people. There are later sleepers, early risers, and people who enjoy dessert and those who like a salty snack.

Use the answers from this ten-minute exercise to craft a 10-point wellness checklist that reflects your personal needs. When you feel stressed out and reaching your emotional peak during the hectic holiday season, you have this list in your back pocket.

Typical items on your mental health checklist might include how much water and how much sleep you need on an average day. It should also include a few quick go-to options for a quick reset, like a 30-minute run or a long hot shower. 

Not only will this wellness checklist serve your mental health all year long, but it should come in handy during the holiday season when mental health gets put on the back burner.

Need an Extra Boost? 10 Holiday Self Care Tips

A senior man with cup of coffee sitting on a sofa at home at Christmas time.

1. Take a Time Out

In a busy holiday party, do you start to feel overwhelmed? Take a five minute time out in the bathroom, or a quiet room if you need it. With so many people, and likely many drinks swirling around, nobody will notice your short absence. 

This short time out gives you a quick recharge and a moment to collect your thoughts. Even if you are the host, it’s okay to take a break. Remember, socializing is hard work, and you don’t have to be ‘turned on’ for an entire event.

In the larger scheme of things, you can also schedule these short time outs beforehand. Maybe that means planning a quick trip to the corner store to pick up supplies, or to walk the dog. You have to look after yourself before you can successfully look after others.

2. Delegate As Much As Possible

Even if you are hosting the family Christmas dinner this year, it does not mean you have to handle everything. Plan ahead and delegate. Your friends and family won’t bat an eye if you ask them to bring a bottle of wine, the main dish, or dessert. Part of the holidays is sharing, and what better way to demonstrate this than by sharing the responsibility? 

Some families maintain the strict rule: Those who cook, do not clean. Is there a way you can tactfully implement this among your family members? This rule makes hosting that much easier and means you can relax for part of the evening. 

3. Find Events Not to Attend

Although the holidays are billed as a time to get together, do you have to attend every celebration? Absolutely not! Sort through all the invitations in your mailbox and find the ones you aren’t overly enthusiastic about. 

Maybe you can’t handle Aunt Susan’s Christmas swap this year, or the annual neighborhood block party. Take these taxing events off your schedule. Send your apologies to Aunt Susan, and let your neighbors know you are feeling under the weather. 

There is an entire year to make up for your absence during the holiday season. If your mental health is at stake, you don’t have to accept every holiday invitation this year.

4. Plan to Leave Early

For the parties you do choose to attend, maybe you might consider leaving early. As soon as you show up to these events, let the host know your exit strategy in advance so everyone is on the same page. 

If you don’t feel comfortable leaving without an excuse, there are many you can lean on. For example, you have work the next day, you are already exhausted from another event, you are trying to keep your alcohol consumption under control, or you are feeling under the weather. 

For the introverts out there, leaving early is an easy way to socialize by also supporting your mental health. For introverts, socializing is exhausting. So knowing you have a two-hour window to contend with can make the experience much more comfortable to bear.

Plus, if you leave early, you won’t drink as much. As no surprise, if you don’t overindulge with alcohol, you’ll feel much better the next morning.

5. Make Every Dinner a Potluck

With family visiting and countless celebrations to host this holiday season, has all the responsibility landed on your shoulders? Remember, you can ask for help. Tell your visiting in-laws and extended family that they are responsible for dinner, sorting out the lunches for the children., and dealing with the shopping.

When it comes time to host the annual family party on Christmas Eve, assign everyone a dish. Grandma can make her famous butter tarts, the uncles can handle the beer and wine, and you can stick with your famous crowd-pleasing dip. Delegating never felt so good.

6. Don’t Expect Perfection

Part of the pressure of the holidays is everyone’s heightened expectations for how they should go. Unrealistic expectations are not great for mental health. Before heading into this holiday season, consider what expectations you have, and whether or not these are realistic. 

Consciously reevaluate the quest for perfection. Do your Christmas lights need to look like Ferris Bueller’s Christmas Vacation? Do you need to spend so much money on the ideal Christmas gifts? Take a step back and set realistic expectations. Allow space for mistakes, for late arrivals, for messes, and family arguments. Look at these little hiccups as part of the typical family traditions, not their downfall.

7. Avoid Excessive Alcohol Consumption

Whether or not your family has problems with alcohol abuse, alcohol can still become a massive trigger during the holidays. Starting in early December, there are more reasons than not to celebrate with a glass in hand. An excessive celebration may escalate into bad hangovers, lack of sleep, and regrets. 

For your mental health, take it easy. At the annual holiday work party, at a celebration with friends, and most importantly with family, strive to reduce your alcohol consumption. One too many drinks will increase your risk of poor decision making and unnecessary arguments with those around you. 

8. Scheduled Downtime for Yourself

Although we all look forward to the holidays as a time to relax, does pure relaxation every get adequately planned into the busy month of events? This December plan downtime for yourself in advance, using the tools you outlined on your wellness checklist. 

If an invitation comes, which conflicts with your previously scheduled evening of deep relaxation, consider what it means for your mental health if you just bump it out of the way. At the very least, reschedule. Don’t let this significant “me time” get derailed by what others have planned. Self-care requires work, especially during the busy holiday season.

9. Look for Free Events in Your City

Mother and daughter holding burning sparkler outside and making a Christmas wish

Another often overlooked item of self-care is setting a budget and sticking to it. Money is already the number one reason why Americans are stressed, and the situation does not get any better during the holidays. 

If you find yourself anxious about the bills coming to your mailbox in January, set a Christmas budget this year. Save money by hosting events at your home, making all dinners a potluck, and finding free events to attend during the holidays. 

Thankfully, many festivities this time of year are free. Some cities have free skating and visits with Santa. There is always the Santa Claus Parade to attend, and you might even find a free holiday dinner held by a local religious or charity group. 

10. Volunteer for a Good Cause

There are several studies to date that demonstrate volunteer work is good for the mind and body. According to a piece by Harvard Medical School, 200 hours of volunteer work a year equates to lower blood pressure. Volunteer work connects you with your community, helping to reduce the risk of mental health issues like anxiety and depression.

According to Rodlescia Sneed, author of “A Prospective Study of Volunteerism and Hypertension Risk in Older Adults” and interviewed by Harvard Health, “Many people find volunteer work to be helpful concerning stress reduction, and we know that stress is very strongly linked to health outcomes,”

Reduce your holiday stress level by volunteering at a local charity. This time of year, many organizations need a helping hand.

Don’t Forget Self Care During the Hectic Holiday Season

We all assume we will get the rest and relaxation we need during the holidays, but rarely make time for it. By the time December rolls around, your schedule is likely already jammed packed full of celebrations and family vacations. 

With so much going on, your mental health can quickly get set to the side and forgotten about until you reach a breaking point.

This time around, keep your wellness checklist in your back pocket. When you start to feel anxious and overwhelmed, pull it out to review. Have you drunk enough water today? How much sleep did you get last night? When was the last time you had an evening of self-care? Asses and schedule a time to boost your mental health with some of the critical items on this list.

The holidays are always busy, but with some of the self-care tips listed, they don’t have to be stressful.

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