• Lily Ewing

6 Ways to Take Care of Yourself During the Holiday Hustle & Bustle

Despite being the most wonderful time of the year, the end of the year can also be the most stressful. Somehow, the chase for joy, peace, happiness, and wonder creates pressure from all sides and leaves many of us feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, and not like our usual selves at all. Here are some tips on how to take care of yourself this holiday season.

1. Check in with how you’re feeling.

Our emotions are messengers about what we need. Even though they’re not always entirely grounded in reality, they communicate a very real message about what we need. However, the message is worthless if we don’t choose to listen to it. To check in with how you’re feeling, try to find the emotion words that fit. Here’s an extensive list of words to describe all the nuances of feelings if you need some help identifying the complex emotion that comes up when your uncle asks you if you’re still single again, or when your grandma makes a stinging comment about what you’re eating. The holiday season brings up so many emotions--some old, and some new. Tuning in to them in the moment (or soon after) brings self-awareness and perspective. When we know what we’re feeling, it’s easier to identify what insecurity or pain we’re internally responding to, and we can choose how to respond instead of just reacting. Practice taking a moment to take a deep breath and think about how you’re feeling. If it’s a complicated or big emotion coming up, stepping aside to grab a glass of water and have a minute to think is a great way to make sure you’re okay before returning to the situation.

2. Hold on to the things you’re grateful for -- especially in stressful moments!

Gratefulness is the antidote to comparison, dissatisfaction, and wishing you could be anywhere else. But sometimes, especially at the holidays, you have to be here. One of my personal secrets in stressful situations is to physically hold on to something I’m thankful for so when things get tense, I have a physical reminder of the good things in my life. Often the thing I’m holding is a hot cup of coffee so I can center my feelings on joy with every sip. It sounds small, but it really is grounding for me to have something so familiar to the normal days of my life with me in a stressful moment. Another thing I do is wear a bracelet that my husband gave me. It says “you’re my person” and it’s a good reminder that I have someone in my corner, even if the people I’m with currently are poking at my insecurities in the moment. As you’re preparing to go into holiday functions and situations you know will be challenging, plan ahead for small ways you can bring mementos of the things you’re grateful for with you.

3. Know who your people are.

You could probably list a bunch of people who love you, but the list of people who really know you and consistently treat you with respect, kindness, and nonjudgmental care is probably a bit shorter. That’s the list I want you to know and keep in mind during the chaos of the holidays. For many of us, family is wonderful, but for others, family members are the ones inflicting most of our hurt, even if we still have to spend time with them for the holidays. Here’s your reminder: you know yourself better than you parents, siblings, grandparents, spouse, friends, or anyone else knows you. You are the expert on who you are, what you need, and how you’re feeling. So when you do have a couple of people who are interested in knowing and supporting the real you, keep them close! (Or at least on speed dial). And when you need encouragement or a listening ear, choose to reach out to the ones who you know will be there in the way you need.

4. Notice your inner critic, but don’t listen to it.

We all have a voice inside our head that’s a little harsher than the others. It’s the one that’s usually whispering things to the effect of “you’re not good enough”, “you don’t deserve this”, “you didn’t do enough”. You need to stop listening to that voice. At the holidays, though, it’s especially important to tune your inner critic out. There are enough voices from family, society, and the media telling you that you’re not good enough, doing enough, festive enough, peaceful enough, happy enough, in the right relationship, doing the right thing, wearing the right thing, eating the right thing, and on and on and on. You do not need to add to these thoughts. Shut that voice out of your mind. If you’re having trouble with this, here’s an article on positive affirmations; this is a good habit to continually practice shutting out that inner voice of criticism.

5. Let some things go.

The expectations of the holiday season can be too much. Here’s your excuse to let some of them go. Prioritize what’s most important to you and the people who are most important to you, and let some others slide. This also can include setting boundaries with people who want to hijack your joy and peace by giving you a longer list of expectations to meet. But really--you can let some things go. If you need to skip sending out a holiday card this year, go for it! If you need to step back from Black Friday shopping and recover from Thanksgiving instead, you can. If you need to give up the dream of coordinating outfits for Christmas day and just show up as you are, you can. Channel all the confidence of Queen Elsa as she sings Let it Go from her ice castle, and release yourself from some of those expectations. Your peace, your priorities, and your mental health are more important.

6. Stay present.

My final tip is to focus on being where you are. This might sound a little backwards, if you know the holidays to be a weird game of show up and “fake it til you make it” at family, social, or work functions. But if you can practice staying present and authentic where you are, you’ll do a better job of taking care of yourself in the long run. When we go into emotionally loaded situations and choose to ignore our feelings, avoid real engagement, or dull our internal experiences with alcohol or copious amounts of sugar and butter, things don’t get dealt with. Rather, they get stuffed beneath the surface and can become a ticking time bomb of pain, negativity, and unmet needs that will explode if we don’t address them soon. So stay present. If you notice yourself trying to dull or ignore a feeling, take a moment instead to be present with that feeling. Make note of it, and choose to care for yourself instead. I like to literally make a note in my phone of what feeling came up and why it came up, so I can process it fully when I’m in the safety of my own space later. Sometimes you can find some immediate care by texting one of your close friends in the moment to vent. But I promise, bottling your feelings up to get through the holidays will steal the peace, joy, and wonder of the season, and will leave you with stress to unpack in the New Year, and you deserve so much more than that.

friends drinking tea together at holidays

The holidays can be really challenging and chaotic, but you don’t have to lose yourself in the hustle and bustle. As you’re planning holiday dinner menus and gift lists and social calendars, make some plans about how you’re going to support your emotional and mental health through the stress of this season as well. You’re worth it.