We all know the holiday season fills up faster than your stomach at Thanksgiving Dinner. This holiday guide to self-care will help you mentally prepare for the weeks ahead so that you can enjoy each moment to the fullest.
The Holiday Season comes fraught with expectations (usually unrealistic), social functions (usually too many), and extended family (often stressful). The gift you need to give yourself this holiday season is self-care. Come back each Sunday this month for examples of self-care activities that will bring you peace in the season of chaos.
Get Your Head in the Game
The shorter days in December seem like vampires, sucking precious minutes from each hour. I rush around trying to get things done at a breakneck pace, checking to-do items off my list faster than Santa checks his gift list for good boys and girls.
Meanwhile, little chores and tasks seem so laborious. Who wants to file the growing stack of papers on one’s desk when the weak winter sun beckons? The tepid warmth will last only minutes before the thermometer drops below freezing once again.
Each morning I struggle to hop out of bed when my alarm chimes. Normally, I have no problems popping out of bed at four in the morning, but not in December. But my snoozing does no good.
Instead of falling back asleep while my alarm patiently counts down nine minutes (who came up with how long one should snooze, anyway?), my mind races through all I must accomplish. My recriminating thoughts have fistfights with each other, and when the bell goes off, no one wins.
I forget that every day of the year has 24 hours and no one says I must accomplish a full day’s complement of work in the meager nine hours and fifty-eight minutes of sunlight allotted to me. How did I ever cope when I lived further north and had an hour less of sunshine? What do people in Alaska do?
Holiday Season Self-Care Activities
Christmas programs, gift buying, work parties, decorations, real trees or fake, friends, family, the delicate negotiations of who will spend which hours of the holidays with whom and where, cookie exchanges, shrinking bank accounts and expanding waistlines, expectations and always, always, the need for light. The need for Light.
It takes me years to decorate each new house we move into—how will I decorate for a single season before it ends? How does Martha Stewart do it? How does a gal preserve her peace in the season of hustle and bustle and high expectations? Self-care, that’s how.
I’m not talking about a massage or a visit to a spa either (who has time for that during the holiday season, anyway?). This list of self-care activities for the holidays will guide you through how to keep your expectations realistic and learn to be present during the season.
1. Ask, “Who’s the Boss?”
Forget the decorating divas and the music mavens. Start now and plan your stress load. If you have a family, involve them, too. If you want to go all-out decorating your house for Christmas, write that on your list. Decide when it will happen and who will participate. Talk about the importance of decorating for each person involved.
Me? I decorate because of the lights. They remind me of the Light of the World, who came as a tiny babe to walk alongside us. Immanuel—God with Us. Not just saving us from our sins through his sacrifice, but experiencing our pain as well. Rejected by family and friends, abused physically and verbally, homeless, laughed at, misunderstood, endangered, betrayed—Jesus knows suffering.
The lights also remind me to reflect the Light. In the holiday season people carry heavy stress loads, and any smile or kind word I can offer will reflect the Light.
During these dark days of December, I cling to the Light. I put candles in my windows and wrap sparkling lights around the barren trees outside. Each night I make a date with the Light.
When the alarm chimes, I slip out of bed straight onto my knees and thank God for the Light. I pad to the kitchen and brew myself a decaf skinny latte with a dash of cayenne pepper and then head to my prayer chair.
This month I’m copying a passage about the Light from scripture in my journal each morning. Join me in this practical self-care activity. Focusing on Jesus helps me say no to the crazy.
If you’d like to join me and receive daily reminders with reflection questions, just fill out this form at the top of the page.
2. Accept Change
Keeping physically active during times of stress plays a huge role in my self-care routine. But sometimes we have to accept change and implement Plan B. Having a Plan B helps us stick to important self-care routines. And self-care activities recharge us with the mental and physical fortitude for the unexpected.
Running makes me happy—but only in the early morning—my body refuses to participate in that activity after eight a.m. I don’t have time to run before work. And I can never drag myself outside to run after work. Several years ago, I broke down and purchased a treadmill so I can run inside during the cold, dark months.
I don’t love treadmill running, but at least I have a plan. When we travel, I have an exercise app (Beachbody on Demand) that I use to plan out my aerobic activities. My favorite workout at the moment takes just 20 minutes and has a great combo of aerobic and strength-building exercises.
Take the time to create an exercise plan for the next five weeks. Write it in your planner or set alarms on your phone. Imagine yourself doing aerobics in the early morning in Aunt Bertha’s living room. Do whatever it takes to keep up on your physical self-care.
The endorphins exercise produces will keep your spirits up during the holiday season.
3. Adjust Your Expectations and Acknowledge the Need for Help
I’ve learned that adjusting my expectations helps, too. I will never have a Norman Rockwell or Martha Stewart Christmas. My dinner presentation will never grace the pages of a magazine. No one will ever remember how beautifully decorated our home looked. But I can still have a memorable holiday season by learning to work with others.
Think about your love languages and possible pitfalls during the holiday season. Acts of Service tops my love language list, so I build up unhealthy expectations about how my family will help out. Of course, I never communicate my needs to them, so I end up feeling frustrated when everyone gathers around the television to watch football.
I’ve learned to study my family members’ love languages, too, and make a point of expressing my love for them in their languages. Even better, I’ve learned to just ask for specific help.
Last year, our youngest daughter got married on January 3. I did the catering, the dress design, and the photography for her wedding. When my oldest sister showed up and offered to help out on the wedding day, I handed her boxes of decorations for the reception and told her to work her magic.
I had no idea my sister possessed decorating magic, but the reception room looked magical in a few short hours. Without my sister, her sister-in-law, my parents, and four helpful students, we never could have pulled off a beautiful wedding.
In fact, I’m starting to doubt whether or not Martha Stewart does all the designing and decorating herself. She probably has a team. We all need a team.
4. Attune to Others
The holiday season will most likely bring uncomfortable social situations. I can go to a holiday party and sit peacefully in the corner, slightly bored, the entire night. Or, I can learn to attune to others and seek out other shy (or bored) people.
If you hate awkward social situations, this holiday guide to memorable conversations might help. First off, you’ll have more fun if you get people talking. You don’t have to memorize a ton of conversation starters or anecdotes, either.
Vanessa Van Edwards has great ideas for creating “Big Talk” sparks (and bypassing the boring chit chat) in her book Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People. Her group tested seven conversation starters and the top four all involve asking unique questions. The sparks make the conversation memorable for both the questioner and the recipient.
Try these conversation sparks from Van Edwards at the next holiday gathering:
- What was the highlight of your day?
- What personal passion project are you working on now?
- Have anything exciting coming up in your life?
- What’s your story?
Don’t just hit and run with your questions, either. Take the time to listen intently to the responses without planning what you’ll say next. Having your answers to the same questions thought out ahead of time prepares you in case your new conversation partner reciprocates with the same question. But don’t make reciprocation the end goal.
Think of sparking big talk conversations as a way to keep yourself entertained when you have to attend a spouse’s office party or get seated next to your third-cousin-once-removed at Christmas dinner.
Stop the Madness
Only you can prevent holiday season burnout. Before the madness starts, ask yourself who’s in charge (you, not society). Accept and plan for changes—keep on (or start) exercising in order to regulate your emotions and keep the endorphins flowing. Adjust your expectations and acknowledge that you can’t do everything on your own. Attune yourself to others during awkward social situations by memorizing four easy conversation sparks.
By partaking in these self-care activities, you’ll ensure that you give yourself the gift you really need this holiday season—balance and calm.Check out these four self-care activities that will make your holiday season both manageable and enjoyable! #Christmas #holidays #relationships #SelfCare Click To Tweet
Great post Anita! You have some very wise advice here for self care, thank you! We are in daylight savings time here for Summer so it’s strange to read you have shorter days there!
Tea With Jennifer recently posted…Festive Anxieties…
Love your wise tips, Anita! And I already saw your reading plan pin in the Tailwind tribe, and have scheduled to pin it several times this week–plus just now for good measure! Love that graphic–so pretty and practical! Thanks for all you do to keep us moving in healthy directions, my friend!
Great tips! I especially love the idea of an exercise plan for the next five weeks. I don’t need one for the rest of my life. I just need one that will work for this “season.” Love it!
Rebecca Hastings recently posted…Favorite Holiday Books
As always, great tips for the season! Like you, I cling to the “Light” and that is what my post this week is about. For me there’s never such a thing as too much light 🙂 Love the conversation starters. That helps conversations steer away from topics that cause division or arguments. I needed the reminder that I have a say in how this whole Advent/Christmas season plays out – my voice matters. Good stuff!
Trying to embody all things Christmas is definitely a recipe for disaster. I’m no decorating diva either, but we’ve made it fun by involving the kids, and now that “the kids” are all taller than me, the ones who are home take the lead while I dust and oversee the chaos.
Thanks for the way you speak reasonableness into this celebration.
[…] (Sharing with Inspire Me Monday) […]
Great tips! I’m thankful my whole family gets involved with decorating for Christmas. If they didn’t, I’d probably do a lot less.
Barbara Harper recently posted…Organic Mentoring
Great post, Anita! I, too, am a lover of light. Thanks for sharing those scriptures; and thanks for the conversation starter questions. I especially love the first one, “What was the highlight of your day?” Everyone needs to reflect on that anyway!
Jerralea recently posted…Full like Stephen
#2 is one of my hardest: Accept change. I usually love my Plan A’s. But they rarely, if ever, happen as I imagine. Being flexible is a key ingredient to contentment. Thanks for these tips, Anita! Christmas is indeed a stressful time for me but it doesn’t have to be.
Thanks Anita, I really needed to read this. The holiday season is great, of course, and I always look forward to it, but it can really, really take a toll on my body and mind. Self-care is one of the most important things, I loved all your wonderful tips. Thanks again!