This time of year can be filled with great fun and joy, as we celebrate, observe holiday traditions and spend time with family and friends — sometimes those that we don’t see much the rest of the year.

But let’s face it — the holiday season can also be a time of hurry, stress and exhaustion. That’s why it’s even more important to build in some self-care to the season and make sure you rejuvenate yourself, and not just jump from one social occasion to another or focus only on giving to others. And don’t think that this is a selfish act; the fact is, if we are not treating ourselves with loving kindness, it becomes hard to do so toward others. Deplete yourself too much, and you may find you have nothing left to give. Run yourself down too hard, and it becomes very difficult to enjoy the holiday season.

Here are some tips for practicing self-care this time of year.

Acknowledge your feelings

If someone close to you has recently died or you can’t be with loved ones, realize that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. It’s OK to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season.

Anticipate that this is a difficult time for you and make plans accordingly — in writing. It can be as simple or complicated as you like. That way, when you’re experiencing difficult emotions and can’t think straight, you can just pull out the list for help.

Write down a list of triggers and ways you can cope. What makes you particularly stressed, anxious or worried? For example, if you know you have to go to the mall and crowds stress you out, pick a time of day that isn’t as busy. If you know you’ll hear that Christmas song on the radio that makes you sad, make your own playlist to listen to. If a family member who makes you uncomfortable approaches you at a party have a plan for excusing yourself. List the trigger and the specific action that will help.

Have realistic expectations

The holidays don’t have to be perfect or just like last year. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones. Try to set realistic goals for yourself. Pace yourself. Organize your time. Make a list and prioritize the important activities.

Be realistic about what you can and cannot do. Don’t put the entire focus on just one day, but remember that it’s an entire season of holiday sentiment, and activities can be spread out to lessen stress and increase enjoyment.

Remember the holiday season does not banish reasons for feeling sad or lonely; there is room for these feelings to be present, even if the person chooses not to express them.

Set aside time for yourself

Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can’t participate in every project or activity. Make some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm.

Photo courtesy of Hiatus Spa & Retreat

Photo courtesy of Hiatus Spa & Retreat

Indulge in some restorative practices

Think about the things that help relax, calm and re-energize you at other times of the year, and make sure you incorporate them into your holiday routine. Some examples or ideas might include:

  • Taking a walk at night and stargazing, or perhaps a daytime walk through a local garden or park that’s particularly beautiful.
  • Listening to soothing music. This can be particularly nice to play in the background as you are doing holiday tasks such as cooking, wrapping presents, etc.
  • Getting a massage. One particularly nice option is to indulge in a holiday-centric treatment, such as the ones offered by Hiatus Spa & Retreat.
  • Reading a book, particularly a purely escapist/entertaining one (as opposed to heavy non-fiction or something related to work or school).
  • Taking a hot bath with oils or bath salts.

Reach out to others and ask for help when needed

If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events. They can offer support and companionship. Volunteering your time to help others also is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships.

More resources

  • There is actually a psychological term for this: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Mental Health America of Wisconsin has a great article about it here.
  • WebMD.com offers these 19 tips for coping with holiday stress and depression.
  • The American Institute of Stress has an excellent article on being mentally and physically healthy during the holidays — and most importantly, recognizing the signs of overstress in yourself or others.
  • Read the Mayo Clinic’s tips for coping with stress and depression during the holiday season.
  • Hiatus Spa has a piece on 5 quick and easy tactics for managing stress.