How to Prioritize Self-Care During the Holiday Season

For many, the holidays are one of the busiest times, if not the busiest time, of the year. And with so much to do (shopping, holiday parties, school events…the list goes on), it can be hard to find a moment to catch your breath, let alone find time for self care.

But prioritizing self care during the holidays is a must if you want to start the New Year feeling happy and healthy. So the question is, in the midst of all the holiday busyness, how do you make self care a priority?

What is self-care, and why is it important to prioritize during the holidays? 

We’ve said before that the truth about self-care is much broader than the bubble baths, facials, and #treatyoself mentality it has become synonymous with in recent years. “Self-care is the act of taking your time and energy and funneling it into an activity that focuses on your own mental and physical well-being,” says Towson, Maryland-based licensed clinical professional counselor Shelby Milhoan.

And while investing your time and energy into your mental and physical well-being is always important, it’s especially important during the holidays. Why? For starters, “during the holiday season we often focus on others’ wants and needs…[instead of] our own,” says Milhoan. 

And when your focus is on what other people want and need for you (for example, shopping for gifts for your family or attending your friends and neighbors’ holiday parties) and not on what you want and need for yourself, it’s easy to feel stressed, overwhelmed, and burned out. 

That stress and overwhelm can impact not only how you feel, but how you act. “If self-care is not prioritized, the stress and tension will seep out, and often in ways we will not like,” says Andrea Turnipseed, LCSW, co-founder and executive director of Roots Behavioral Health in Austin, TX. For example, this could mean lashing out at your loved ones.

Even if you love the holidays, if you neglect self-care, by the time New Year’s rolls around? You may feel a lot less “holly jolly” and more like The Grinch. “The holidays [have] become an added source of stress and overwhelm for many people,” says Amanda Cassil, PhD, licensed clinical psychologist and author of The Self-Care Plan for the Highly Sensitive Person. “Even good, joyful events can be stressful and wear on you, making the need for self-care more important during these windows.”

Know what self-care means for YOU…

Because you are a unique individual, your version of self-care is also going to be unique. For example, “an extrovert might find walking around a busy downtown area helpful…while an introvert might need some time in nature or a good book,” says Cassil.

So, the first step in prioritizing self-care this holiday season? Defining what self care means for you. Think of activities that would genuinely feel calming and restorative. For example, do you need to find more alone time in between holiday obligations—or does spending time with your friends and family fill your cup?

One important thing to keep in mind is not to judge your preferred self-care activities based on what you think self-care is “supposed” to look like. “Knowing what works for you and serves you in your relationships and your lifestyle is important,” says Turnipseed. “Don’t take a bubble bath because a TikTok video said that’s the best form of self-care. You need to find what works for you.”

…and then put those activities on the calendar

The holidays are notoriously busy. It seems like every unscheduled minute or unstructured stretch of time will be quickly occupied by another holiday event, obligation, or to-do item. So, once you’ve determined what kind of self-care activities are going to be the most supportive for you? You need to put it on your calendar.

Putting self-care on your calendar, like you would any important appointment, will ensure that you leave space in your day for yourself—and will prevent you from scheduling something else during the time you’ve already scheduled for yourself.

“I always encourage people to schedule self-care into their calendar because it’s harder to bump something that has dedicated time,” says Cassil. “When you do this and someone tries to schedule something, you can politely decline, let them know, ‘unfortunately, I have a commitment during that time,’ and then decide if you want to try to find an alternate time or not.”

Stack self-care onto another habit

If self-care is new to you, the thought of carving out time to take care of yourself every day—especially during a hectic time like the holidays—can feel overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be! Don’t worry about trying to start a whole new habit. Instead, just add self-care to a habit you already have. 

“Plan out your day and add self-care practices to things you already do,” says Turnipseed. “For example, when you finish brushing your teeth, stop and do a short breathing exercise. Or, when you are sipping your morning coffee, you can practice mindfulness: pause, slow down, and, for 5 minutes, really experience the sensations around drinking that cup of coffee.”

By building on habits you already have, you can get into the swing of regular self care. As it starts to feel more a part of your daily routine, you can expand your practice into more extensive self-care activities.

Set boundaries and say “no”

“Many people overextend themselves at the expense of their own happiness during the holidays,” says Turnipseed. But overextending yourself is the opposite of self-care. The best thing you can do to try and avoid that is to set some healthy boundaries—and learn how to say “no.”

“Boundaries help you love yourself and others without sacrificing your wellbeing,” says Turnipseed. “This may mean saying ‘no’ to people and activities that do not serve your mental health, limiting the amount of time spent with family, limiting time spent on social media platforms, or scaling back the number of holiday events you attend.”

Now, if the thought of turning down holiday invitations or opting to spend more time alone during this time brings up feelings of guilt, remember that you can’t take care of anyone else if you’re not taking care of yourself. And sometimes, saying “yes” to yourself and your own needs means saying “no” to other people—and that’s totally fine.

“Do you feel guilty when you have to fill your car up with gas? No, because your car needs it and if you don’t, then you will end up broken down on the side of the road,” says Cassil. “The same is true for your body.”

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