Holiday Self Care

The holidays can be a stressful time of year. Holidays can be full of love and joy, but can also bring up loss and painful memories. And despite having time off, self care is often neglected in favor of celebrations and activities. It can be useful to plan ahead for the holiday season so you feel more rested and prepared for the New Year. Here are some self care tips for the holidays:

1)  Think about what you want ahead of time. This seems obvious, but is often harder than it seems. You may think you HAVE to participate in certain traditions, travel, or celebrations because you usually do, but it’s important to think about whether or not you WANT to. Reflecting on what parts of the holidays you enjoy can help you make decisions about what you want to show up for. When your plans are internally driven by YOUR wants and needs, you are more likely to enjoy the holidays. Might as well take advantage of your time off!

2)  Ask for what you want. Share your thoughts about the holidays. Be a part of the planning and involve yourself in preparations. Give your input about where and how to celebrate. If you don’t let people know what you want for the holidays, they won’t know how to accommodate what you want. It also helps people who love you feel closer to you. Even if family traditions feel inflexible, you can still be authentic in asserting what you want.

3)   Know your limits and set boundaries. If the holidays bring up uncomfortable feelings for you, it is especially important to set boundaries and know your personal rules ahead of time. It’s possible that you may need to set boundaries about what holiday activities you will or will not participate in, where you will stay, who you will see and how long you wish to stay. Usually past experiences inform these decisions (see # 10).

4)  Have reasonable expectations. It’s easy to romanticize the holidays, but it’s important to be realistic about what to expect. If certain problems usually arise during the holidays then it is likely those same issues will come up again. Talking through expectations with friends or loved ones ahead of time can be a great way to be more realistic about what to expect.

5)  Take breaks. During the holidays you’re often around people a lot. It’s important to know when to take time for yourself, even if it’s a short break. Taking a walk, calling a friend, journaling, or watching some TV are all great examples of ways to unwind and decompress.

6)  Make time for the basics. Taking care of your basic needs like sleeping, eating, and grooming can make a big difference in how you feel.

7)  Maintain at least part of your routine. It may be impossible to do all of your regular activities during the holidays, but it is possible to keep up with some of them. If you find that certain parts of your routine like exercise, spiritual practices, or recovery programs help you feel more grounded, try to make time for them in your holiday schedule. It can be helpful to plan these activities in advance before the holidays ensue.

8)  Incorporate time for FUN. This is time just for you! Be playful and enjoy your time off!

9)  Create your own traditions. There is always room to explore new holiday traditions and incorporate them into your life. It can feel satisfying to define the holidays for yourself by creating additions to the family traditions you grew up with.

10)  Make a list of lessons learned that you can review next year. At the end of the holiday season, it can be helpful to do some writing about positive and not so positive holiday experiences that will inform your decision-making next year. Some questions to answer when writing: What did you like/not like? How did you feel when doing certain activities? Where you happy with your travel plans and/or accommodations? What would you change? Do you need to set any boundaries for next year? This list can be a work in progress. Adding lessons learned from year to year can be a great way to discover how you like to spend the holidays.

Most importantly, think about how to make this time of year special to you. Happy Holidays!

Setting Boundaries

Boundaries help keep you safe in relationships by allowing you to clearly define what is okay and not okay with you. In more serious situations, especially if you are in physical danger, verbal boundaries are not enough.  But, in everyday life, asserting boundaries can be a positive relationship skill that can prevent conflict and long-term resentments.  Asserting boundaries ahead of time helps people understand what you want and how to show up for you.

Here are some simple steps to setting boundaries effectively:

1) Let the other person know how you feel when they do the thing that bothers you. This is your opportunity to share your feelings!

2)  Let them know how you experience their behavior. What meaning do you attribute to their behavior?  This helps the person understand WHY something bothers you.  However, it’s important that you speak from your own experience without blame.

3)  Tell them what you want. This changes depending on the situation, but should be concrete and realistic. People can’t change WHO they are, but they can try to modify their behavior in response to your requests.

4)  Remind them (and yourself!) that you are not in control of their behavior. Even if you want someone to change their actions, there is no way that you can make them change.

5)  Tell them what steps you will take to protect yourself in the future if they continue the specific behavior. This step is the most important! Boundaries don’t work unless there are consequences. In order for this to be effective, you have to take responsibility for your part – following through. The more you follow through, the more people learn how you want to be treated.  It also feels empowering to stand up for yourself by doing what you need to do to take care of yourself.

To put it all together, let’s use an example. Say you are feeling upset at a friend who consistently shows up late when you meet up to get dinner. You may need to let your friend know what this brings up for you and how you want to approach plans in the future. A simple boundary could look something like this:

When you show up more than 15 minutes late without contacting me, I feel hurt and angry. The story I tell myself is that you don’t care about me and my time. In the future, it would be great if you could let me know when you are running late ahead of time so that I can adjust my schedule. If you can’t, that’s okay, but in order to take care of myself I will leave the restaurant after 15 minutes if you haven’t arrived and I haven’t heard from you.

If you need to set a boundary, it can be helpful to write it out ahead of time so that you know what you want to say. Even though saying what you want can be uncomfortable at first, it can help bring you closer to the people you love. It is important to note that sometimes setting a verbal boundary may not feel appropriate.  If you can’t say it, practice taking actions to protect yourself in uncomfortable situations (see step 5).

Family and the Holidays

With the holidays swiftly approaching, there is a lot of chatter about holiday plans, including visiting family.  Holiday celebrations with family can be exciting, fun, and joyful, but they can also bring up painful realities about family relationships. And it can be especially difficult to share about holiday plans when those relationships are strained, tense or absent. I often hear clients express guilt and shame about not wanting to visit family members and discomfort about how to tell other people who may not understand.

Limiting relationships with family members is not always the most accepted or celebrated choice.  People may ask probing questions or say things like “but you should be close to them – they are your family!” However, people often do not know the relationship complexities of your family that inform your decision making.  Even if they do, they might be expressing cultural messages about family loyalty, forgiveness, and community inherent in their own families. They may not feel like they have the choice to make their own holiday plans.

Nevertheless, when you are suffering from conflict and fractures in family relationships, the last thing you want to hear is doubt and uncertainty from those around you. Here are some tips on how to talk about alternative holiday plans with friends, colleagues or acquaintances:

1)  You don’t have to share everything. People often make the mistake of sharing all the details about family dysfunction, leaving them feeling vulnerable and scared of judgment. Practice being discerning about who needs to know the specifics. You can prepare for conversations ahead of time by taking an inventory of what is relevant and important.

2)  Come up with a short explanation of your family relationship.  Even if your family dynamic is complex, you can give people an abbreviated version of your experience that feels comfortable to you.  Examples include: “I’m not that close with my family,” “Things are complicated with my family,” “I don’t usually visit family during holidays.”

3)  Get support from close friends, loved ones or professionals. If you are having a hard time about your holiday plans, pick a few people to open up with.  Friends may be relieved to have someone to share their own experiences with and your choices may empower them to make different decisions about how to spend the holidays.

4)  Practice educating others about how they can support you. Think about what you are looking for from the person you are talking to, whether it’s someone to listen, to ask questions, or to just accept your choices. Many people react automatically because they do not know how to show their support – help them learn what you want!

5)  Frame holiday plans in a positive way. You can share what you ARE going to do, rather than what you ARE NOT doing. You can invite positive attention and encouragement by saying “I’m having a friend’s Thanksgiving!” rather than “I’m not seeing my family.” It can also be a great way to avoid uncomfortable or unwanted questions with colleagues or acquaintances.

How you spend your holidays and how you interact with your family is totally up to you. Sharing your experience and holiday plans with someone you trust can be a great way to validate your own decisions.