A helpful guide to navigating the season, with healthy boundaries in mind
Written by: Summer Berry, SACASA Therapist
For many, the holiday season is an exciting and comforting time of year. As the air chills and days grow shorter, many find themselves nestling in with cozy garments and hunkering down with comfort foods. Many look forward to spending time with loved ones, enjoying breaks from the every day hustle and bustle, and celebrating the spirit of the holidays.
While all of this sounds great, the holidays can also be incredibly isolating and overwhelming for folks. It’s very common to experience increased anxiety, depression, and grief during the ‘’most wonderful time of year’’ for a multitude of reasons. If the latter resonates with you, just know it’s totally normal and I’VE GOT YOU!
I’ve devised a list of quick and simple tips to increase self-care, maintain healthy boundaries, and make your holiday season a bit more merry and bright.
Respect your limits
The holidays can bring joyous occasions, full of celebrations, gift-giving and connection with others. Regretfully, that merriment often comes with extra errands, a lot of behind-the-scenes work, and additional obligations. The key to having more ‘’dazzle’’ and less ‘’frazzle’’ in winter is to set healthy boundaries around how much time, energy and effort you'll commit to bringing the cheer. From shopping to attending festivities, make reasonable plans that include breaks as you march down those to-do lists. Know that you don’t have to attend every holiday invite. Most people understand the holidays can be a bit hectic. Sending a warm message or making a brief call to decline will do just fine.
Keep up with healthy habits
Traveling, hosting guests, coordinating gatherings and finding gifts can really throw a wrench in the works. A key to wellness is making sure you are taking care of YOUR needs during the season of giving. If going to the gym, meditating, journaling or attending therapy are parts of your self-care routine, make sure to keep up with them over the holidays. If you’re planning to go out of town, see if your gym has a location there or meet with your therapist virtually. It can be really tempting to break habits and let loose with increases in free time over the holidays. Just remember how difficult it is to get back into healthy routines when you slip out of them. Taking a break from routines can also lead you down the slippery slope of bad habits. Making a list of non-negotiable habits, like sticking to your regular bedtime, will help you stay on track.
Acknowledge your feelings
With the holidays, come expectations to feel jolly and merry. The truth is, holidays can bring a mixed bag of feelings for most. Are you grieving or missing a loved one? Do you have anxiety about spending time with a difficult family member? Are financial concerns weighing on you? It’s important for you to be aware of complex emotions that come up this season and accept them without judgment.
The greatest gift you can give yourself is the gift of compassion
If journaling is a regular coping practice for you, be sure to keep up with it over the holidays. If not, try writing about how you feel when difficult emotions arise. It can be a great way to process emotions in a safe and judgment-free space. It can also be helpful to talk about difficult feelings with someone you trust. Make time to talk through your emotions with a friend, therapist, sponsor or coach.
Honor your wishes
Although the winter holidays bring warm sentiments like ‘’peace on earth’’ and ‘’goodwill toward all’’, they can also bring pressure, expectations and unhealthy comparisons that lead to a lot of mental anguish. To avoid the pitfalls of such internal conflict, ask yourself what is most important to you during the holidays. What do you want to do? Who do you want to be with? How do you want to spend your time? What is needed to support these wishes? Is there anything getting in the way of fulfilling those wishes? Having clarity about your priorities will help you focus on what matters to you most. It will also help you set healthy boundaries with others and enable you to make decisions that respect YOU, which is the ultimate form of self-care.
Check in and give yourself a break
This one is pretty cut-and-dry. Although it is the simplest tip to describe, it can sometimes be the toughest to follow. During the season of giving, it’s easy to kick your giving mode into high gear, leading to some unhealthy sacrifices and poor self-care. Just because the holidays are full of festivities, doesn’t mean you have to burn the candle at both ends. The key to having truly ‘’happy holidays’’ is to respect yourself and take care of yourself.
No one can love you better than you
So, keep a pulse on your energy levels, emotions and thoughts. When overwhelm, loneliness, dread and other difficult emotions rise, take a beat to listen to what they are telling you. Give yourself a break to tend to those feelings and soothe them. When feeling lonely or experiencing geographical distance from loved ones, connect with others in your community through volunteer work. If feeling physically exhausted, take a break from socializing to cozy up at home and recharge. If feeling dread or questioning the meaning of the holidays, make time to engage in something that is truly fulfilling or satisfying to you.
The unique whirl of emotions, expectations, and challenges surrounding the holidays are enough to cloud even Rudolph’s lens. So, keep a healthy perspective on maintaining mental wellness by leaning into self-care and setting healthy boundaries this holiday season.