The holiday season is here once again, and while for most families, it is a time of togetherness, I understand for those living in dysfunctional families, it can also bring unique challenges. That's why, in the spirit of your holiday well-being, I put together 15 practical holiday self care tips and ideas you will want to know, along with a sprinkle of holiday magic.
Picture this: It's the holiday season, and you are sitting in your living room with your family. There is that aunt or uncle who generously serves unsolicited comments or advice on your weight or your life choices, family members who insist on rehashing old grievances, unverified political conversations, and someone's had a bit too much to drink.
Sound familiar? Well, you are not alone. Many of us experience these challenges of a dysfunctional family during the holidays. You might also be wondering, "How can I practice self-care over the holidays?" But don't worry. 'Tis the season NOT to be stressed, and in this post, I will share some easy-to-do holiday self care tips and tricks to help you navigate this festive time with a little more laughter and joy.
Coping with the holidays can bring its own set of challenges, but with the right self-care plan, it is possible to enjoy this time of the year. So, grab a cup of your favorite holiday beverage, get cozy, and start reading.
What is Holiday Self-Care Anyways?
Self-care means taking intentional actions to prioritize your physical and emotional well-being. Holiday self-care means just that, but more specifically about taking care of yourself during the holiday season. It means doing things that help you feel less stressed out, even when a lot is going on.
The great part is that you don't have to do complicated things to engage in these holiday self care tips, and you certainly do not have to wait until it's self-care month. You want it to be simple and easy, like taking a break to watch your favorite holiday movie, taking a short nap, or journaling about your emotions.
Think about holiday self-care as a gift to your mind and body.
Why is Self-Care Important During the Holidays?
Did you know that 89% of adults experience stress during the holiday, primarily due to financial concerns, missing loved ones, and the anticipation of family conflicts? This recent survey was conducted by the American Psychological Association, indicating the need to take care of your mental health during this hectic season.
The holiday season is a time of mixed emotions, including certain expectations like handling family conflict, keeping up with family traditions, and spending time with family. When you experience this pressure, engaging in healthy self-care practices is essential to look after your mental well-being.
Surviving the holidays can be hard sometimes, but if you follow some of these holiday self care tips below, it is possible to enjoy this time of the year. So, let's get right into it.
15 Holiday Self Care Tips
Here are 15 essential tips for the holidays to help you get started. I have divided them into two categories: 'Before the Holiday' and 'During the Holiday' to make sure you get the most out of this magical time of year.
These self care tips for the holidays will help you enjoy the season with less stress.
7 Holiday Self Care Tips Before the Holiday
1) Create a holiday to-do list
My number 1 holiday self care tips that is the most important is having a to-do list. I cannot emphasize this enough. It is a valuable tool that will help you stay organized and on top of important tasks and events, especially when there is so much going on.
When you have a to-do list of all the things you need to take care of before the end of the year, you are making sure nothing slips through the cracks and allows you to stay present in the moment without feeling overwhelmed or ruminating on all that needs to get done.
So, whether you need to write out your grocery list, schedule your therapy appointment, or pick up your family members from the airport, make sure to have a holiday to-do list.
2) Mindful scheduling
Once you have created your holiday to-do list, the next step is planning and scheduling. But, instead of trying to do anything and everything, consider being mindful this holiday season. Holiday self care tips include mindful scheduling to make sure you have an enjoyable holiday season, which means taking a thoughtful approach to your time and making sure you allocate it to what matters most to YOU.
This is an opportunity to think about what items on your to-do list need to be prioritized, delegated, postponed, or entirely removed from the list. For example, if you want to meet with your therapist before the day of the family gathering, you will want to prioritize scheduling that. However, if you have been thinking about organizing your closet, that may be a task that can wait until the holiday rush has settled down.
Try the Eisenhower technique for your mindful scheduling. This technique includes categorizing your tasks into four groups- urgent and important, not urgent but important, urgent but not important, and neither urgent nor important.
When you prioritize holiday-related activities, you create a balance between what needs your immediate attention and what can be deferred, leading to a stress-free holiday.
Also, if your family is anything like mine, you will have numerous gatherings happening during the holidays. I want to provide a gentle reminder that you can't be everywhere, and choosing events (or activities) that align with your priorities will allow the holiday to feel more meaningful and less rushed.
3) Spend some alone time
Spending 'me-time' before the holiday rush begins can be a game-changer. It allows you to mentally prepare for the busy days that are ahead of you by assessing your priorities and enjoying moments of solitude.
During the holidays, my house can get really busy to the point that finding alone time can sometimes be challenging. Taking advantage of this alone time allows me to prioritize my to-do list and think about how I want to spend my time and energy over the next few days.
So, whether you enjoy a cup of tea in silence, journal about your thoughts, or practice mindfulness, I encourage you to set aside moments of solitude and connect with yourself.
4) Set reasonable expectations for yourself
The holidays can sometimes create false expectations, and it's easy to get caught up in the idea of a perfect family holiday. It is important to consider the general dynamics of your family and set reasonable expectations. This is one of the top holiday self care tips I encourage you to consider and practice.
Setting reasonable expectations of yourself can include knowing your limits, accepting that not every moment is going to be peaceful, and assuming that some things may never change. This allows you to focus on how you will cope or respond in certain situations rather than spreading yourself too thin trying to meet unrealistic standards.
Realistic expectations for the holiday season when dealing with a dysfunctional family may include:
- Expecting some tension and disagreements
- Accepting not everything will go perfectly
- Stepping away to cope with stressors
- Accepting you can't control how others react, but you can manage your reactions
When you understand and accept that every family has underlying conflicts and imperfections, it allows you to manage your expectations about the 'perfect family,' showing you that real-life family dynamics are complex and not that straightforward.
5) Reconsider the way you approach giving gifts
My least favorite thing about the holidays is gift-giving. I am a spontaneous gift giver, which makes holiday gifts overwhelming because of all the expectations, timelines, and pressure. This year, my holiday self care tips will revolve around focusing on meaningful gestures over material gifts. If you are anything like me, try reconsidering the way you approach giving gifts this year.
If the idea of buying someone a present feels like an obligation or a way to check off a list, it may be time to consider another way, including questioning the underlying expectations.
Take a moment to ask yourself where this expectation comes from and if gift-giving aligns with your values and financial situation. Pause and think about if this is something YOU want to do or if it is imposed by society or family to make a more intentional choice this holiday season.
Gifts do not need to be expensive or just material presents to be meaningful. Remember, acts of kindness, handwritten letters, and spending quality time are just as significant. The goal is to do what brings you and the others around you joy rather than feeling pressured by external factors.
6) Schedule a therapy session
If you have access to therapy, I would encourage you to schedule a session before going into your holiday season. As much as holidays are about taking a break from work and connecting with family & friends, it can also bring emotional challenges, stress, and anxiety, especially if you are dealing with dysfunctional family dynamics.
Learning stress management holidays techniques is important during the holiday season, and therapy can be a good place to start to help you work through your feelings and anticipatory anxiety about family challenges, allowing you to set realistic goals for yourself. Whether your goal is to pause before responding or cope with a heated argument, therapy will let you think about your values and personal goals. I highly recommend adding therapy to the top of your self care checklist.
7) Create a cope ahead plan
Cope ahead plan is a very popular (& one of my favorite) DBT coping skill that you can use to manage challenging situations during the holidays. Coping ahead is exactly what it sounds like- proactively thinking ahead and preparing yourself to cope with potential stressors or triggers.
Here is a step-by-step approach to creating your cope ahead plan:
- Identify your triggers or potential stressors that you want to cope with: Write down situations, triggers, and possible interactions that may be challenging during the holidays. For example, when you are around extended family, it can be triggering to listen to unsolicited comments about your appearance or weight. Imagine you are at your family gathering, and a family member makes a comment about your weight in front of everyone.
- Predict how you will feel in that situation: Coping ahead means trying to think about what emotions may come up if you are faced with triggers or potential stressors. For example, you may feel embarrassed, angry, or sad in response to the comment.
- List of coping skills: In this step, you think about how you will cope in a specific situation to manage your emotions. Coping strategies can include redirecting the conversation, setting a boundary by saying, "I would appreciate my weight not being discussed at our family gathering," stepping away & taking a few breaths, or simply ignoring the comment. This is also an opportunity to think about how you can stay connected to the present moment.
When you learn to cope ahead, you aren't figuring out how to cope at the moment but rather more proactively prepared to manage your emotions. This tip goes hand-in-hand with realistic expectations. Holiday gatherings aren't perfect, and we can't control the actions of other people, but we do get to manage our reactions to them.
So, this year, if you decide to embrace any of the holiday self care tips from this post, consider creating a coping plan for yourself.
Recommended Read: 5 Tips to Avoid Holiday Stress
8 Holiday Self Care Tips During the Holiday
1) Have a morning routine
My mornings are sacred, and it set the tone for the rest of the day for me. During the holiday season, people may constantly surround you, and it can be hard to find alone time. This is why sticking to your morning routine is important. When the holidays start, don't give up your morning routine. Think of it as your alone time when the world is still quiet, and you have moments of peace all to yourself- a warm hug before embracing whatever the day is going to bring.
Also, your routine certainly can be different from the same routine you follow during non-holiday. It can be a revised, more accessible version that still provides a sense of calmness—for example, drinking your coffee or tea in quiet while journaling your thoughts or doing a 10-minute meditation session before joining everyone.
If you don't have the space for alone time, think about how you want to show up and cultivate gratitude by thinking about 2-3 things that bring you happiness and stillness, allowing you to be armed with patience and a reassuring sense of self when you are around friends and family.
RELATED POST: 16 Simple Habits for Your Morning Self Care Routine
2) Find time for you daily
It can be hard to find alone time during the holidays if friends and family members constantly surround you. Finding time for yourself daily is a good way of saying, "Hey, let's take a break and check-in," Think of it as mini self-care moments to find time for yourself.
Coffee is my comfort beverage. Every holiday, I like to get coffee and sometimes enjoy the cup at the cafe, depending on the day. It allows me to disconnect and be present with myself. If you can't leave the house or have a separate room, you can go to the bathroom and splash some water on your face or go out for a quick walk.
The goal is to find time for YOU by giving yourself a short daily escape.
3) Focus on the basic 4
Things can feel out of control during the holiday season. When things feel out of control for me, I like to focus on four fundamental pillars of self-care to stay grounded: water, movement, eating, and sleep. Staying healthy during the holidays helps with your emotions and overall well-being.
Carry around a bottle of water and make a conscious effort to sip on water throughout the day. When it comes to eating, try practicing mindful eating, where you savor every bite and pay attention to your body's hunger cues. Being aware will help you avoid overeating and have a healthier relationship with food during the holidays.
Also, remember to move your body to help boost your mood and reduce stress levels. It does not need to be an intense workout; even a short walk or stretching your body can help.
Finally, take into account the power of a good night's sleep. While you may not have the same sleep schedule during the holidays, try to prioritize healthy sleep habits by establishing a regular bedtime routine.
When you feel overwhelmed or don't know where to start, focus on these four pillars of self-care. These simple practices can help you maintain a sense of balance and help with taking care of yourself through the holidays.
4) Practice being in the present moment
Being able to connect to the present moment is like giving yourself the gift of mindfulness. During the holidays, it is easy to get caught up in reminiscing or worrying about the future, but the true magic is in the here and now.
For many of us, being in the present moment takes intention. You are bringing awareness to moments during your day where you are fully present, whether it's enjoying your favorite holiday beverage or sharing laughter with your family. When you are able to be present in your life, you can savor them to the fullest and be part of the gift of time and experience.
Here are a few ways you can be present:
- Mindful breathing: Bring your awareness and attention to your breath. Notice the inhalation and exhalation to ground yourself.
- Remove any distractions: It can be tempting to stay on your phone or have a desire to watch the game. Stepping away from these distractions for a moment will allow you to give others your undivided attention.
- Use all 5 senses: If you are new to practicing mindfulness, start with your senses. Bring your awareness to sights, smells, tastes, textures, and sounds around you to help you stay in the present moment.
5) Make space for mixed emotions
The cope ahead plan you worked on creating before the holidays can be used to make space for mixed emotions during the holiday season. Embracing the complexity of your feelings is a form of self-care. Holidays can bring a lot of joy, laughter, and peace, but they can also bring up different emotions like grief, sadness, and anger when dealing with family dynamics. That is entirely normal.
Try not to suppress or deny your feelings, but rather acknowledge them and allow yourself to have a moment to be present with those emotions and remove the pressure to feel a certain way. As you recognize an emotion, you may not always be in a situation where you can openly express it. Depending on your surroundings, you may need to use some discretion and find ways to effectively deal with your feelings, including journaling, breathing, stepping into another room, calling a trusted friend, or using positive self-talk.
When you acknowledge an emotion, you engage in a form of self-compassion, leading to balance in your emotional experience. So, this holiday season, welcome your feelings and know it's okay to feel however you do during the holidays.
6) STOP, Slow down & breathe
The STOP skill is one of my favorite DBT skills that allows you to Stop, Take a Step Back, Observe, and Proceed Mindfully in situations that require managing intense emotions or when tension runs high.
If there is a heightened escalation during your holiday events, try practicing the STOP skill to pause and disengage from reactive urges. The goal is to respond thoughtfully and not react and make the situation worse. When you pause, bring your focus back to your breath and control your breathing. Remember, your breath is the anchor in helping activate your body's relaxation response and reduce the intensity of the emotions.
Once you are able to stop and step back, observe your situation and the environment around you. It can be helpful to remind yourself that your emotions are temporary. Think of watching as turning a torch light in a dark room- it allows you to see things more clearly. When you can see something more objectively, you are able to proceed mindfully by making choices that align with your values and long-term goals rather than reacting.
7) Start a new holiday tradition
I love starting new holiday traditions that are more in alignment with what I believe and value. It adds a new layer of excitement within our family. My family is known for playing a specific card game every holiday season that I look forward to every year.
Starting a new holiday does not mean you don't honor family traditions, but rather adding to it that balance both sides. It also does not have to be a significant change; it can be as simple as watching a holiday movie with the family after dinner or cooking a particular dish.
You can also start a new holiday tradition for yourself. It does not always have to include family members. For example, you can make special holiday cookies for yourself or watch the city lights with hot cocoa on your own.
The idea is to try something different and create traditions that are more in alignment with your values and desires. The big lesson I have learned over the past few years is that if it is a family tradition I don't necessarily believe in or follow, that does not mean it's wrong- it's about balancing the needs of everyone in the family.
8) Set healthy boundaries
One of the most important acts of self-care is setting boundaries. It dictates what you are comfortable with and what includes crossing the line. Boundary setting is not selfish, and it can be challenging but essential to have during the holidays.
Here are some general steps to set boundaries:
- Identify your needs and limits during holiday gatherings
- For example, you may identify comments about your weight that make you stressed during the holiday.
- Define your boundaries that focus on what you are comfortable with and what is considered crossing the line
- For example, deciding you don't want people commenting on your weight or appearance.
- Using "I" Statements
- Having proactive conversations can be helpful if you predict some behaviors will happen. Choose a time to communicate your boundary and use "i" statements. "I" statements take away blame and indicate an assertive way of communicating. For example, say, "Please do not discuss my weight during the holiday dinner" instead of accusing or blaming. People are more receptive when we use I language.
Unfortunately, people don't always respond well to boundaries and/or may not understand them. If someone violates your boundaries:
- Acknowledge your emotions: Take a deep breath to manage your feelings.
- Reiterate your boundary: Be firm and respectful when reminding the person of your boundary. For example, "I have asked not to discuss my weight during family gatherings." and from there, redirect the conversation to something more positive or neutral.
- Walk away or limit interaction: If the boundary violation continues to happen, consider walking away or limiting your interaction with this person to protect your emotional well-being. Sometimes, it can help to use the support of friends or family members to enforce boundaries if necessary.
Setting boundaries is vital for your holiday self care tips. However, you should always prioritize your safety and well-being. If it isn't safe to set a boundary, remove yourself from the situation if possible, and seek support from trusted friends or family. Your safety should always be the top priority.
Make sure to pin this holiday self care checklist for later- you don't want to miss out on these holiday self care tips!!
30 Simple Holiday Self Care Ideas
Here are some December self care ideas to help you get started:
Physical Self-Care Ideas
- Stretch your body
- Try a holiday-themed workout class
- Try ice-skating
- Go for a walk
- Have a snowball fight
- Make a healthy dish
- Drink flavored water
- Sip on herbal tea
- Sleep in
- Challenge yourself to 10k steps
Mental & Emotional Self-Care Ideas
- Disconnect from technology
- Journal your thoughts
- Watch classic holiday movies
- Take a nap
- Reflect on your favorite holiday memories
- Light holiday scented candles
- Write down a gratitude list
- Create a vision board for the new year
- Read a good book
- Schedule a therapy appointment
Relaxing Self-Care Ideas
- Do tea time with family
- Have a holiday movie marathon
- Holiday self-care bingo
- Watch the snowfall
- Enjoy a warm cup of coffee
- Take a warm bath
- Enjoy a self care Saturday
- Do some skincare
- Sleep without an alarm
- Take a yoga class
Self-Care After The Holidays
The holidays are over, and it is now time to give your mind and body some extra attention before you start transitioning back into your daily routine. I always find post-holiday so much harder because I experience some mixed emotions with leaving home and wrapping up time with my sisters. It's okay to acknowledge your feelings and make space for them.
Instead of jumping right back into your routine, why not give yourself permission to rest and recharge? This is a good opportunity to reflect on the holiday and all the good, bad, and ugly that came with it. Think about any lingering emotions or stress you need to work through, or maybe your body needs extra rest to slow down a little before you reintegrate your habits back into your life.
Next, think about ways to bring back balance to your life, including regular exercise, a sleep schedule, and healthy meals as you move beyond the holiday schedule. You can check-in with your therapist post-holidays or slowly reconnect with your mindfulness practice.
Refrain from pushing yourself too much to do something that does not feel right for you. Self care after the holidays is just as important as before and during the holidays.
The holidays can be a whirlwind of emotions, and it's important to practice self-care during this season to prevent overwhelming holiday stress. With all the things you need to do during the holidays, it can be easy to forget about taking care of yourself; however, neglecting your mental health can impact your ability to manage things effectively. Holiday mental health should be a priority for everyone.
If there is only one thing you take away from these holiday self care tips, let it be the reminder that the holiday stress is temporary, and the new year is just around the corner. In the meantime, challenge yourself to focus on the joy of the season and all the things you can be thankful for, such as quality time with your loved ones, delicious food, and taking a break from your routine.
By choosing to practice self-care, you will be able to not only survive this holiday season but also savor all the moments of joy that you will be able to carry into the new year. Please extend yourself the gift of self-care this year and remember to be kind to yourself during the holidays. These holiday self care tips are my gift to you for that!
What are some holiday self care tips you have during the holidays?