So often the holidays are viewed as a time of family connection, warmth, and meaningful celebration. However, for many, the holidays highlight losses, a lack of belonging, sorrow, and family dysfunction. If you are someone who is experiencing pain or stress this holiday season, then this article is especially for you. Above all else, I encourage you to connect with the safe people in your life about the difficult experiences you may be having. Also, continue to do what you love and what gives you meaning throughout the entire holiday season rather than taking a break from everything that is good for you for two weeks. Below are specific recommendations for holiday self care for different holiday ailments.
If you are someone who absolutely loves the holidays and only experiences pure joy through them, by all means, enjoy and connect with your loved ones fully! But it can still be helpful to be mindful of how the holidays are painful for many because is likely that someone you care about is experiencing this. It can be so powerful to actually see those who are lonely, grieving, or conflicted during a bustling, attention-grabbing holiday season.
1) Grief and Loss
While the holidays are a reminder to be grateful for the special people in our lives, they are also a reminder of the loved ones we have lost. It is so normal to re-grieve family members who have passed on. If this is the first year without someone special at your family gatherings, be especially gentle to yourself. Lost relationships can also bring up difficult feelings, especially if the break up occurred recently or if the last holiday season was spent with this person.
Holiday Self Care: Allow yourself to feel the gratitude and love you have for the lives of those you miss, even if there is also sorrow. I encourage you to connect with the good memories of them, especially if you can do so with other family members or friends who are also missing them. If you have spiritual practices or faith, this is the time to connect with your higher power and to honor your lost loved ones, whatever this looks like.
2) Feelings of Insecurity
The holidays reveal what you feel you are lacking in your life. Maybe you wish you could share success stories about your career with extended family, introduce a new partner to the family, or simply feel as though you have your “life together” (whatever that means!) Regardless, it can be easy to feel the distance between where you are and where you want to be.
Holiday Self Care: Maybe you can shift perspectives to allow the distance between where you are and where you want to be to motivate and inspire you rather than to intimidate or depress you. Examine yourself and what you are proud of in your life, and bring a specific story or two to share with curious extended family members. If you struggle with anxiety and insecurity, spend time meditating and affirming yourself that you are “enough” before large gatherings.
3) Holiday Family Drama
The holidays bring out the mess in every family. If there is any tension between any family members, it will likely be felt. It is fairly typical for young adults to feel as though they have grown and matured, but then return home for the holidays and slide back into old patterns of communicating or behaving. For those who struggle with addiction, the holidays are often a triggering season. If there is any certainty for any family during the holidays, it is that they will be reminded that they are not perfect.
Holiday Self Care: Instead of focusing on the mess, perhaps you can devote equal attention to the genuine love, connection, or joy that there is to be found in the people you are around. Identify your “safe person” in the family. Know what boundaries you need to set before spending time with your family (time spent with family, topics you are willing or not willing to talk about, behaviors you will and won’t tolerate) and have strategies ready for either avoiding, gently pushing back, or exiting if need be.
4) Depression and Suicide
Depression and thoughts of suicide often increase during the holiday season. It can be incredibly challenging to feel alone, empty, and down when it seems as though everyone and everything around you is cheery. The holidays are also a common time for trauma to resurface, which can intensify feelings of being overwhelmed, hopeless, or unworthy.
Holiday Self Care: Be honest with those you trust rather than allowing your pain to remain unseen. Allow people to understand and support you, and maybe you will find you are not alone. If you are in therapy, continue going during the holidays as much as is in your power. If you are not, maybe this is the time to begin. If you need immediate help, call a hotline (National Suicide Prevention Line: 800-273-8255) or go to an emergency room.
5) Giving and Receiving Gifts
Giving and receiving gifts can bring up challenging feelings. This may seem incredibly odd to those who love to give and get gifts, but this is a tough dynamic for many. This may be due to power dynamics, feelings of obligation, feelings of unworthiness, or feeling in debt to someone following a particularly nice or unexpected gift.
Holiday Self Care: Notice your feelings surrounding gift-giving, be curious as to why they exist, and then picture yourself brushing away the feelings that are not founded by facts. For instance, you are never in debt to someone for giving you a gift, as the gift was that person’s decision. Similarly, this can also be a good time to practice voicing gratitude for gifts rather than dwelling on your feelings of unworthiness. If there are toxic relationships in your life that do have ties and expectations with gifts, seek support within your community or through therapy to determine what boundaries you can set to keep yourself safe and healthy.