2022 is just around the corner, and we are rapidly approaching the two-year anniversary of the beginning of the pandemic. The holidays look a little different this year; many of us spent the 2020 holiday season relatively isolated, but people are planning and attending gatherings this year. Amidst these reunions, we are grappling with the joy of being with our loved ones again, our fears for everyone’s safety, our worries about the future, and the regular “holiday busyness.” These concerns may occur in tandem with existing anxiety and mental health struggles; this can be a very challenging time of year under the best of circumstances
Our desire to make this year “extra special” is probably already coming at a correlating extra cost. Any moments we might have spent taking time for ourselves are probably being filled with shopping, baking, planning, cleaning, decorating, wrapping, shuttling, organizing… The list can be endless. These tasks require time, effort, and the carrying of ‘the mental load.’ The mental load often falls to women: who needs to be where? What do we need from the store? What time is that appointment? When do we need that outfit dry-cleaned by? Self-care for women can be especially difficult to achieve at the best of times, let alone at a busy time of year.
The Holiday Season comes once a year, and it comes with a long list of traditions and “must-dos.” This leaves us feeling the pressure to achieve everything “perfectly” within a small
window of time. If it comes down to a choice between going to pick up nana to drive around and see seasonal lights versus going to bed early, we are going to get nana. We will justify our choice, too! “This is the only night everyone who wants to go can make it!” or “Nana looks forward to this every year, and I don’t want to delay her joy another day or two!” The end result is that we are burnt out from moving when our body wants to rest and socializing when we need mental space.
Kids are home from school, and there are last-minute work projects to complete. When added to the above-mentioned holiday activities, all the changes in your schedule can be very triggering to forgetting all about yourself. The normal spaces you might have to complete your tasks may not exist anymore or be moved around. You may go to bed late, staying up to do last-minute holiday shopping or cleaning or cooking. You may pack your weekends with outdoor activities instead of taking it slow or easy on yourself. Before you know it, you are running on Low Battery. Pushing through the holidays can leave you completely depleted afterward and struggling to bounce back and get back to your regular routine.
You may struggle with a lack of work-life balance regardless of the holiday season. You tend to put yourself last year-round, no matter how tired or spread thin you feel. You have unhelpful thoughts around self-care, such as “self-care can wait” or “let me just do these things first.” If you aren’t one to prioritize your self-care when in a routine, you are very unlikely to be able to carve out time for it during a hectic season.
Self-care and mental health have a symbiotic relationship, but it can be hard to prioritize self-care when we feel low and hard to improve our mental health without self-care. Taking care of yourself doesn’t work if it’s an afterthought; it is a series of acts and habits that support you living in a way that works well for you. It is common for people to experience so much holiday anxiety that they live in a state of constant vigilance, unable to think beyond, “I just need to survive the season.” But it doesn’t have to be like that! Yes, you probably get enjoyment from watching others appreciate the fruits of your labor, but you deserve to experience relaxation and wonder as well! Nobody who truly cares about you would want you dragging yourself into the new year with barely an ounce of strength; you are allowed to want better for yourself!
Are you struggling with anxiety and depression? Individual therapy online or in-person in our Woodland Hills practice can help you with Cognitive-Behavioral therapy.
If you view self-care as a selfish act, you may find it difficult to feel good prioritizing it. Reframe the unhelpful thoughts you have about self-care. For example, instead of thinking “self-care can wait”, tell yourself:
“self-care is a priority.” A few of my favorite ones are: “self-care is not selfish”; “you don’t need to earn your rest”; and “I deserve to take care of myself.”
When you feel as though acts of self-care are too self-focused, remind yourself that you can’t pour from an empty cup. Everything you do, which includes nurturing your relationships with others, requires you to have the energy to do so.
Self-care is an essential piece of any healthy and balanced life. Would you feel selfish for drinking enough water? Eating enough food? Getting enough sleep? (If you feel that you would, you might want to consider why you feel that way.) If you think of self-care as a daily habit, as opposed to a luxury to be saved for “special circumstances,” you can begin to feel comfortable with the idea that self-care is meant to be a part of how you live your life. Spoiler alert: is it meant to be a part of how you live your life.
Once you have done the work to validate your own need for self-care, the next step is to advocate for yourself and your access to it. It is not your business whether others understand how important your self-care routine is. You can take the time to explain to them what you are doing and why you are doing it if you want to, but their reaction does not determine your follow-through. You are perfectly within your rights to have a self-care day. Have a bunch of them! Have as many as you need in order to feel like you are bringing your best self to your life.
If others complain, you may or may not choose to explain to them that prioritizing your mental health benefits not only you but them as well. It can be tricky to balance our understanding that self-care is allowed to be selfish with our knowledge that it is also a way to be more giving to others. When you are able to accept that both of these things are true: that you are doing it for yourself, and in turn, that action is for others’ benefit as well, then you are fully able to own and enjoy the process of self-care. You should be your first priority, but that doesn’t mean you don’t love and care about others.
We often suffer from burnout because we overextend ourselves, and holidays become an extra trigger to fall back on people-pleasing. There is enough holiday stress without this additional burden! There is no time of year where you owe anyone anything you truly don’t want to give. Yes, there is great pressure to make the holiday season merry and bright through endless acts of self-sacrifice. This pressure has been advertised and applied throughout the years through various mediums from sales, media, and family tradition. But not all traditions are positive. Saying “no” is kindness. It is a kindness to yourself, and it is a kindness to others. Saying “no” to what you don’t want, or cannot do, makes room for you to attend and excel at events and activities that you do want to do. It also means you won’t be sulking at someone’s holiday party or showing up late and frazzled to three overlapping events.
Always remember that “No” is a complete sentence. You can soften it by adding a “thank you” at the end or an “I wish I could, but…” at the beginning. If it makes you feel better to pull out your phone and look at your calendar, then pretend you’re already booked that day, go for it! Nobody needs to know that that event on your calendar is “Sit alone wrapped in a cozy blanket while eating takeaway Chinese food” – your business is your business!
Individual therapy in Los Angeles can help you unpack the reasons behind your poor boundaries and guide you in learning skills to set healthier boundaries with others.
Setting priorities begins with being aware of what is in your control and what’s not. First of all, you are not responsible for everyone’s feelings. This doesn’t mean that
you do things that you know will be hurtful just for the sake of it. It means that you take responsibility for yourself; you know yourself, your needs, and your boundaries, and you communicate with respect. It is reasonable to expect others to dothe same. Examples of other things beyond your control include the weather; commuter buses, trains and planes; and traffic.
The best way to determine our priorities is to be mindful. In real-time, we take note of what we experience when faced with different circumstances. When we note our emotions, we are doing so from a place of curiosity instead of judgment. It also enables us to recognize things beyond our control and let go of trying to manipulate them into working for us and our plans. Mindfulness is an ongoing process of consistent learning and observing. It allows us to consistently bring ourselves back to the present and maintain the knowledge of what is important to us and what is not. Where we would have panicked about something small and out of our control in the past, we are now able to recognize it for what it is and move on.
It has been almost two years since the pandemic began, and there are still many unknowns. Accepting that we can’t completely go back to big gatherings and feeling our feelings around this is important. We need to have compassion towards our frustration, confusion, and sadness. For many of us, we thought that the pandemic wouldn’t be an issue for this season – now, there are extended mask mandates and surging case numbers. Last year, you may have mentally prepared yourself for a holiday season spentalone. The shock of this year’s situation may actually make it harder to take than last year.
In general, whether you are experiencing the holiday season amidst a pandemic or not, you may struggle at this time of year. You may feel the need to practice self-care but feel guilty about it. Or you may recognize that it would benefit you to add self-care to your routine but not be sure of where to start. Feeling overwhelmed, confused, nervous, or frustrated about this is natural. Remind yourself that all life is a learning process, and you cannot expect to handle everything perfectly all the time. All that matters is that you put in consistent effort to note and process your emotions so that you can validate your experiences and learn from them.
Everyone’s definition of self-care is different. It means working out, attending physical therapy, and getting eight hours of sleep for some. For others, it means laughing with a loved one every day. For others still, it means making time to be alone and
decompress from social activities. Some people like alittle of everything! Throughout the busyness of the holiday season, you may struggle to make time in your schedule for these activities, or painting, yoga, going for a drive, sitting at the beach. Year-round, you may have trouble identifying where to begin with your self-care practice or feel entitled to have one.
Our practice in Woodland Hills can assist and guide you in your journey to embracing self-care as part of your daily routine, and we would be happy to help you.
Wherever and however you start, just start. Think of a small thing that instantly brightens your mood. Do you consider that thing a “treat”? Why? Some things in life are special, for special occasions or times of the year. But a lot of the things we enjoy could be enjoyed more regularly as part of caring for ourselves and showing ourselves love. These can include bubble baths, a face mask, going for a walk on our own, listening to our favorite album and dancing around in our living room, and so many more things.
Whatever works for you is valid for you; you are deserving of loving yourself and expressing that love every day!
Here at Embracing You Therapy, we invite you to explore with us how life would be different if you had more control over your thoughts and emotions, and we invite you to consider that it is possible to accept things just as they are, embracing imperfections to create a gentler place for calm in your life.
Let’s learn what drives your unique perspective on anxiety and stress. Then, let’s find the tools-your unique tools-that help you respond to life in a healthy, calm way. Contact us today for your complimentary 15-minute phone consultation with one of our Client Care Coordinators.
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