Love & Support

Practice Holiday Self Care – by Mimi O’Connor

“Blessed is the season

which engages the whole world

in a conspiracy of love”

– Hamilton Wright Mabie, Essayist

The holiday season can be a festive and wondrous time of year. It is a time dedicated to cultivating a light heart and reconnecting with those we love. We can also discover the meaning and joy of the season through offering peace and goodwill to others and ourselves.

When we feel better, we are always able to do better for others and ourselves

The holidays also have the potential to drive us a bit crazy, fill us with stress and knock us off of our healthy lifestyle practices. More than any other time of year, unrealistic expectations can run at an all-time high. It’s easy to get caught in a frenzy of overdoing and over-consuming. As we watch our budgets contract and our waistlines expand, holiday joy can give way to holiday angst.

In order to navigate through the bustling holiday season intact, we will need to stay tuned in, alert and responsive to our needs, wants and desires. Compassionate self-care is the gift that keeps on giving. When we feel better, we are always able to do better for others and ourselves.


Honor the Traditions You Love

With each trip around the sun we continue to recreate and celebrate our holidays and holy days. There is an intrinsic human need to observe time honored traditions through ritual and repetition. Holiday traditions don’t have to be elaborate, expensive and exhausting to be meaningful. Our most valued traditions are often the simple ones that we look forward to experiencing and sharing with others.

Each year I initiate my own preparations for the holiday season in exactly the same way. Of the many containers of decorations that I retrieve from the attic, there is always a special one I choose to open first. It wouldn’t look like much to anyone else. It’s a small, wooden box made of cedar with a tiny brass latch that contains something that is precious to me. I always open it with anticipation, and then gently lift my grandmother’s Irish linen tablecloth from its safe storage. The sight and feel of it instantly fills me with comfort and delight.

Even though the vegetarian holiday meal that I now serve to my guests is quite different from my grandmother’s traditional cooking, her linen tablecloth creates a unifying bridge that lovingly links our past and present traditions.

All traditions are not created equal. Certain traditions no longer accommodate our present needs or likes. Don’t guilt yourself into honoring traditions that you secretly don’t enjoy. Take some time to decide what you will or will not choose to do this year. Give yourself permission to retain only past traditions that you still want and value. Make room for any new traditions that you would like to start.


Set Reasonable and Realistic Expectations

As your holiday to-do list grows, try to keep things in perspective. Gently remind yourself that there is no such thing as the perfect meal, the perfect gift or the perfect family. Seeking perfection is an unrealistic, unreachable and unhealthy burden that sets you up for failure in spite of your excellent efforts. Take just a moment to consider that you just may feel less stress when you shift your focus away from exerting control and towards extending care.

If you have a tendency toward overextending yourself, remember that people-pleasing can lead to overcommitting to things you feel obligated to do, but often don’t really want to do. When we set healthy boundaries for ourselves we are able to be clear about our likes and our limits. This involves proactively deciding where we will be extending our energies and where we will not. This is not selfish. It’s honest. We can’t give from an empty tank. We are responsible for managing our self-care.

The process of setting personal, healthy boundaries never precludes extending generosity and being of service to others. Establishing reasonable expectations actually helps us to foster a deeper awareness of how to make realistic plans that make use of our valuable resources without squandering them along the way. This allows us to consciously and willingly give from our abundance instead of struggling to share from our depletion.


Monitor Your Emotional Temperature

The holidays have a way of heightening all of our senses. They are often a time of mixed emotions for many of us. Seeing friends and family can be exciting or, in other cases, can dredge up past painful memories. Feeling down or overwhelmed during the holidays is not unusual. It may be particularly difficult to put on a cheerful face for those who are dealing with illness, the loss of a loved one, a divorce or are living away from family.

Several times a day, take an internal inventory of how you are feeling. When your emotions are running high, build periodic rest periods into your schedule. Take time to listen to your feelings. They need to be heard, not fixed. Recognizing, identifying and expressing them when appropriate will put you in charge of your emotions so they are not in charge of you. Don’t try to go it alone. Reach out to share your feelings with a trusted friend. Loneliness can never survive the intimacy and connection of a comforting conversation or a warm embrace.


Stick To Your Regular Health Care Routine

If you can, try to exercise at your usual, designated time. Get plenty of rest. Make an effort to maintain your daily nutritional needs. Eating, drinking or sleeping too much or too little will leave you feeling fuzzy-headed and depleted. We can easily spiral down the slippery slope of bad habits when we overindulge. This often causes us to feel guilty. Subsequently, we can then detour into a self-destructive attitude of, “Oh well, I messed up, so I might as well have a little more.”

Moderation, not deprivation, is the key. We can enjoy our holiday treats, meals and gatherings without going to extremes. When we do overindulge, we can promptly forgive ourselves and get right back on track. As the Chinese proverb wisely encourages, “Fall down 7 times. Get up 8.”

Increase Your Stress Management Practice

The best way to de-stress anytime, but especially at the holidays, is to take a time out. Push the pause button. A break from all of the busyness can re-energize and refocus you. Toddlers are not the only ones who need and deserve to nap. (See Ornish Living article, Give It A Rest: Tips for Health Promoting Naps)

When we take time to meditate, practice yoga for relaxation and restoration, or enjoy a quiet walk in nature we have a better chance of restoring both our sanity as well as our ability to savor the season. Create a holiday playlist for yourself. Favorite holiday songs have a way of helping us to feel a bit more merry and bright. In a study in the Journal of Music Therapy, researchers from Monash University in Victoria, Australia showed that listening to music can lower stress hormones, blood pressure and heart rate. There’s nothing like our favorite tunes to dial down the stress and crank up the joy.


Affirm Your Holiday Heart Intention

Think now of one word that describes the kind of holiday season that you want to experience this year. Examples could include: peaceful, connecting, calm, playful, spiritual, compassionate, fun-filled, healthy, heart-warming, being of service, light-hearted, grateful etc.

Write your chosen word in bold letters on several index cards. Display them where you will see them often throughout the day at home and at work. This could include posting them on your bathroom mirror, the refrigerator door, your bedside table, your desk at work, or as a bookmark.

When things start to get hectic, a simple glance at your chosen word will instantly remind you of your heart-felt intention to nourish yourself and others through the holiday season.


Stay Connected

Our interpersonal connections fill us with social and emotional intimacy. The reciprocal exchange of love and support fills us and heals us with feelings of safety, acceptance and belonging. The meaning of the holidays is enhanced when we make an effort to spend dedicated time with our chosen loved ones.

Whether you are lighting the candles of the Chanukah Menorah, the Kwanzaa Kinara or the Advent Wreath, cooking up your favorite holiday meals, or building a snowman outside with the kids, decide what joyful activities you can share with others and set aside time to do it.

If you are feeling lonely, reach out to others by volunteering at a soup kitchen or at a facility for the elderly where residents may not have any visitors during the holiday season. It’s almost impossible to keep from feeling joy and connection when we are actively offering it to others.

The holidays can be a nourishing time of giving and receiving the love and support that we all want and deserve. Reciprocal blessing and communication is the best gift exchange of all. We are lifted, as we lift others. Together, we’re better.

How do you nourish yourself through the holiday season?