There’s no way around it, the holidays can be a very stressful time of year.
Whether you’re dealing with financial strain, family issues, memories of lost loved ones, or struggling with mental health, the time of year that is supposed to be the cheeriest can be one of the most difficult times for many people.
The holiday season is my absolute favorite time of year. I go gaga for Christmas!!! But this year I seem to be struggling a bit more than usual. I’ve had a roller coaster of a year, lost people that I cared about, and I am feeling stress from a number of sources.
I won’t tell you that I know the specific circumstances you may be going through, dear friend, but I will tell you that I see you, I love you, and I want to extend some of my tips about how to manage stress during the holidays. Because you can do this. And you can do it in a way that is best for you.
1. Find a small thing that gives you peace, even just for a moment.
For me, the sound of rain, the practice of brewing a cup of tea, and neck and shoulder stretches (or full out yoga) instantly imbue me with peace.
I also learned about Headspace this year on the recommendation of a friend, and even taking just five minutes to meditate has a dramatic impact on my mood and mental state. It’s so quick that it’s something I can do at my desk at work! It is so helpful.
These moments of peace make all the difference. Give yourself that time.
2. Give yourself busy work.
I don’t know about you, but it can be so easy for me to get lost in my head thinking about stressor and the things that I wish were different. When I get like this, it is so helpful to find something to distract myself with so I can get out of my head and busy my hands and my mind with something, anything, else.
A good movie or a book, exercise, playing with fidget toys, putting a puzzle together, and adult coloring books are some of my favorite “busy work” tasks. Cooking or baking is a great one too! This is the perfect time to whip yourself into a baking frenzy, and will help you with the next suggestion! 😉
3. Do something nice for someone else.
IMO, one of the best ways to fill yourself with love and joy is to do something nice for someone else. Watching the joy on the face of a stranger or someone you care about can remind you of your power to fill the world with love and to affect positive change.
Joy can be contagious, and generosity can be intoxicating! Try inviting a friend over for dinner, delivering holiday cookies to your leasing office, or helping your neighbor dig their car out of the snow. Your options and opportunities are limitless, and making someone else smile is likely to put a smile on your face too!
4. Create a “safe space” for yourself.
It might be your bedroom, your car, your bathtub, the local art museum, or your favorite park trail. Identify a space where you can go to find peace, to shut down, to feel safe, to feel whatever it is that you need. And use it. Having a set space can create a trigger in your mind to relax and find peace. Similar to how psychologists suggest that you save your bed just for sleeping (and romantic activities) so that your brain knows “it’s time to relax and fall asleep” when you get in bed, you’ll be training yourself to find peace when you enter your safe space.
Set rules for yourself for this space. Maybe: no technology is allowed, you listen to a certain playlist, or you recite things your thankful for. Set structure around how to conduct yourself and what mental space you want to be in in your safe place. And prioritize getting to that space as often as you need it.
5. Do something nice for yourself
Whether that’s buying yourself a gift, taking yourself on a date (restaurants, movies, and quiet walks around the neighborhood all count), or just doing something as simple as eating vegetables, sometimes a small “win” for yourself can be a catalyst leading to a chain of taking care of yourself.
Don’t forget this very important reminder.
6. Most importantly, be patient with yourself
Don’t try to force yourself to be something you’re not. If you’re not feeling perky or chipper or friendly or social, then don’t force yourself! You don’t need to be anything other than yourself, and you are wonderful. Consider doing a smaller holiday celebration (or no holiday celebration) for yourself or your family this year. Try setting time limits for yourself when you want to attend holiday events but know you can only last for so long.
If you need to, bring along a trusted buffer person. Let this person know that you’re struggling, and so when your energy isn’t as strong as you’d like or when someone is pushing you further than you want to go, you’ll have an ally to support you and to take the attention off of you if needed. You can be as detailed with them as you want, but even something as simple as “I’m not feeling too cheery/too social. At this party, will you help be my buffer if my energy starts to wane?” or “Will you hold me accountable to leaving when I need to?”
Even if you don’t know what you need, reach out to someone you trust. Tell them as much as you know, or as much as you feel comfortable sharing. If you’re not looking for help or a solution, tell them you just need someone to listen. If you are looking for help or support but don’t know what that looks like, let them know that! In any case, you’ll have an ally and a tangible, caring supporter.
Just allow yourself to process, to grieve, to rest, to recharge exactly as you need to. Don’t pressure yourself and try not to let others pressure you either. Have grace with yourself and remember that whatever you are working through is a process.
Bonus idea: Consider posting something about how you’re feeling on social media.
I know this is a very strange suggestion, but every time I’ve opened up about having *feelings* on social media, I get an outpouring of love and support that I never would have expected. Somehow, reading a message from a stranger or from someone I haven’t talked to in seven years saying “I know the feeling. You’ve got this” can be so encouraging and affirming!
Depending on who you have in your social network, this might provide some encouragement and support that you didn’t even know you had!
Remember, dear friend, self care is not about bubble baths and “treatyoself.” Self care is messy, it is tricky, and it is a journey that never ends. It is loving yourself, being patient with yourself, forgiving yourself, and affirming yourself, even when those you want to affirm you are not. It is protecting yourself, valuing yourself, and intentional acts to strengthen yourself. Self care is not selfish. It is NECESSARY, and now it is necessary more than ever.
Take care of yourself this holiday season. Remember to breathe. Remember to check in with yourself, and to actually listen.
The holidays can be a stressful time, but you’ve got this. I love you; I support you; and I believe in you!