Many of us look forward to the holidays all year. It is ironic that for so many it can also be one of the most stressful times as well. Family get-togethers, work parties, shopping for gifts – on top of our regular daily commitments can quickly become overwhelming.
Often in periods of high-activity, we relegate our own needs to the bottom of the to-do list, but self-care is more than the buzzword de jour. It is a critical component to well-being and good health. On the surface, the notion of self-care feels easy to understand, but sometimes distilling it down to action items can be another story. Here are a few strategies to help give yourself the gift of an enjoyable holiday season.
Be mindful of the moment. The term “mindfulness” often elicits images of serene yogis sitting in lotus position for hours on end. The truth is a mindfulness practice is accessible to everyone. UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center defines mindfulness as “the moment-by-moment process of actively and openly observing one’s physical, mental and emotional experiences.” Data shows impressive benefits to both physical and mental health for those with a practice of mindfulness.
How do you start? Popular apps like Calm, Headspace, and Insight Timer, provide the uninitiated an easy entree into the moment. Simply taking one minute during an otherwise hectic morning to focus on your breath can do wonders. To do this, close your eyes while you inhale fully and deeply into the abdomen and exhale slowly and evenly. Let go of other thoughts while you visualize the process of air entering and exiting your lungs. Practice this one, quick technique regularly and you will see surprising benefits to your overall stress level and tolerance.
Set boundaries. I have a mantra that I pull out in times of stress: “Remember the sacred ‘yes’ and the holy ‘no.’” The holidays especially are a time where our commitments and to-do lists can multiply by the minute. Cultivating an awareness of where your resources are going can help protect you from burnout and disappointment.
Money is valuable, but so are other resources like time, energy, and emotional investment. Thoughtfully consider the big picture before saying “yes” to things you are not fully invested in or that don’t offer value in return. Sometimes the simple act of saying, “no” is the most generous gift you can give yourself. It can be hard at first. For many, saying “no,” brings us face-to-face with our need to please others at the expense of our own well-being. Take time to notice that resistance and evaluate if it serves you. That way when you do offer the “sacred yes,” it comes with a gratitude for the opportunity rather than resentment of obligation.
Focus on the experience. Mile-long shopping lists and slushy, holiday traffic can quickly zap the enjoyment from the season. Consider focusing more on creating experiences and infusing fun. Use holiday baking as an example. Try shifting the focus of this time-honored tradition to be less about the chore of cookie output and more about the opportunity to work together as a family to learn skills, strengthen bonds, and make memories that will be remembered for years.
It is easy to get so caught up in our expectations of what we would like this time of year to be, that we end up missing the forest for the Christmas trees. Ultimately, the magic of the holidays lies in connection to those that matter most to us (ok, and maybe fudge). Mindfully allowing these winter weeks to be a time with fewer obligations and more intention can open up space for enjoyment and appreciation for the gifts of the season as they unfold.
Summer Zemp is a Clinical Mental Health Intern. She earned an undergraduate degree in Communications from the University of Utah and is now finishing her Master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Adams State University in Colorado. Though she spent the first part of her career working for non-profits she had a passion for supporting women in their journey to motherhood and served as a doula and a childbirth educator for over a decade. This experience opened her eyes to the real and pressing need for more support after the baby comes and the real challenges begin. Her interest in postpartum mood disorders led her to the field of counseling and it was a perfect fit. Her areas of interest include Postpartum Mood Disorders (PPMD), women’s issues, relationship challenges, trauma, and LGBTQ+ issues. She has completed additional training in the areas of PPMD, EMDR, Gottman Method, and treating adolescent trauma. She is a devoted partner to her better-half Jeremy, and proud mom to their four teen/tween-agers.