How To Practice Self-Compassion Over the Holidays

by Elizabeth Sautter 

Isn’t it sort of ironic that Thanksgiving is supposed to be a time to focus on what we are thankful for, and then, not even 24 hours later, we move on and rush to shop and focus on the next big holiday. This doesn’t give any time to soak in that feeling of gratitude.  For many people, including myself, this causes stress, anxiety and work that often comes with the season. Did you read that and nod your head in agreement?

If you did, you’re definitely part of the majority: according to a poll conducted by the American Psychological Association, 69 percent of people are stressed by a perceived lack of time during the holiday season, while the same number feel the pinch of financial stress at this time of year.

But is that really how you want to feel during the holidays? Annoyed, tired and burdened by a season that is supposed to be about joy? It’s true that being a parent during the holidays can alternately be magical and stressful – seeing the magic of the season through the eyes of your child can make you remember what the holidays are truly about, but trying to create the “perfect” holiday can quickly overwhelm you.

One of the buzzwords for 2019 has been “self-care,” an incredibly important aspect of living a healthy life that many people tend to push to the bottom of their list of priorities. While some may think that self-care involves activities that could be perceived as negative, like “indulging yourself” or “being selfish,” these aren’t actually negative when done in a mindful and focused way. Below are some tips that can help you (and your kids!) maintain your stress level during the holidays, allowing you to fully enjoy the season. 

The hustle and bustle of the holidays includes a lot of extra activities – parties, school activities, family visits, etc., and it can be easy to fall out of your normal routine. Kids thrive on routine, so constant disruptions combined with over-stimulation, indulgence and lack of sleep can do a number on their emotional and physical health. The same goes for adults – rich food, cocktails, and late nights shopping online can knock you right out of your routine, leaving you too tired for your morning workout and reducing the ability of your immune system to fight winter illnesses. 

Before you know it, you feel mentally and physically drained from a lack of exercise and too many treats and are much more susceptible to the effects of stress. Of course, the occasional late night or skipped workout is inevitable, but it’s important for both you and your kids to try and keep to your routine as much as possible.

The holidays are full of special events that are sparkly and fun, making you want to enjoy every second of what the season has to offer. But just like you can overindulge in treats, you can also overindulge on activities! That’s why it’s so important to understand that it’s ok not to go to everything that you’re invited to. We’re often conditioned to feel guilty for saying no when someone invites us somewhere or asks us to help, especially if we don’t have a “good reason” for saying no. But self-care is more than a spa day – it also means giving yourself permission to pick and choose where you spend your time and energy, and allowing yourself to say no without guilt. 

This applies to kids as well. If your child has a bunch of extra activities or commitments during the holidays, talk with them about whether they feel overwhelmed or anxious about their schedule. Keep in mind that kids will most likely always choose to do every fun activity they can, so there are times you will want to tune into them and gauge how they’re handling the extra hustle and bustle, and they may need your help to make a healthy choice to cut down on their activities.

Plan Ahead

The idea of planning ahead may seem like a no-brainer, but hear me out. It’s true that we are ruled by our calendars, especially as parents. Planning ahead is necessary to ensure that we have everyone’s schedules straight, and this is never more true than during the holidays and school breaks. However, don’t forget to schedule in some time for yourself – time to rest and recharge – and for your kids. Experts suggest that scheduling in things like exercise as if they were a meeting or work commitment will help you to be better about keeping that commitment to your health. 

The same is true with downtime – it is just as important as a meeting or social event, and so scheduling in a time to just BE is a vital piece of the self-care puzzle. Kids need their downtime as well, so maybe after a day of parties or visiting with friends, a day of resting and reading a book or watching movies could be just what the doctor ordered to refresh you in both body and mind.

Give the Gift of Time

While it’s easy to go overboard when it comes to gift-giving, the time and money spent are two stressors experienced by adults during the holidays. Giving the gift of your time can seem cliché, but that time actually means more than you might think. Technology keeps us on an electronic leash at all times, whether we’re tethered to work or to social media. Even when you think you’re being present in the moment, you’ve got your camera at the ready, poised to capture the perfect image or video of an event. Watching a moment unfold from behind a screen isn’t being present – you’re still distracted by the phone, and getting the best possible shot. 

Instead of keeping your phone at the ready at all times, pick a time at the beginning or end of the event you’re attending to take pictures, keeping your phone in your pocket the rest of the time. Go out to dinner with your family, and talk about fun holiday memories from when you were young, instead of letting the kids play on your phone while you talk with your partner. Disconnect. Engage. Love. Remember what the holiday season is about, and think about what your kids will say when they share favorite holiday memories.

The holidays can be stressful for a million reasons, big and small, and sometimes that stress is unavoidable. But with a bit of planning, you can reduce your stress, allowing you and your kids to fully enjoy the season. Self-care during the holidays doesn’t ensure that you’ll be free of the occasional meltdown or results of overindulgence, it simply means that with a bit of mindfulness and a lot of gratitude, you can change “bah humbug” into “the most wonderful time of the year.”


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