Self-Care Over The Holidays
I’ve always loved Christmas. To me there truly is something magical about this time of year. I can’t quite explain my reasoning behind it, and I’m sure those closest to me roll their eyes at my excitement. It’s not a religious thing for me, nor is it that my childhood was filled with big Christmas traditions. But my inner child feels joyful, and I choose to honour her each year by decorating a tree, listening to my excellent Christmas playlist and watching my favourite Christmas movies, like Gremlins (yes, it’s a Christmas movie). But I know not everyone feels the same joy I do around this time of year. It can be an incredibly stressful, overwhelming and manic time, and often we push our own needs to the side to focus on everything we feel pressured to achieve. I may love the holiday season for reasons unknown, but even I can feel the shadow and weight of expectation looming above.
It’s quite detrimental really, the one time of the year we should be slowing down and looking back at what has been, we find ourselves running around trying to remember everything we’ve got to get done. And we often dread the actual celebrations with family, the pressure of keeping everyone happy and keeping the peace. It’s easy to get swept up in this feeling of chaos and urgency, and to lose sight of ourselves. This time of year can be difficult for those who’ve lost loved ones, for those who are estranged from loved ones, and for those who are alone or without a place to call home. And it can be especially difficult for those of us who struggle with our mental health.
In fact, the Christmas and New Years season is probably one of the most triggering times of the year, it can be overwhelming to realise that another year has passed. Maybe we haven’t achieved everything we set out to do, maybe we feel like we’ve gone backwards in our progress or maybe we just feel exhausted. All these things are completely understandable, in a world where productivity is prioritised over self-care, and where it can feel like everyone is celebrating something. Especially scrolling through social media or watching any form of media with the overabundance of Christmas shows and movies available. It can feel like we aren’t doing it properly if we aren’t decorating, cooking, buying, gifting, smiling and being joyful the whole way through. But reality isn’t that simple, is it?
Christmas has become a commodity, the simplicity has been taken away and we are bombarded with options, and pressure. Finances tend to take a big hit at this time of year, there’s the pressure to switch on and be present for gatherings of people we don’t really like that much and instead of slowing down and relaxing we are running ourselves into the ground. And for what? It’s one day of the year! This societal expectation and pressure must be rethought. The thing is though, it is just expectation. There are no rules about what you must do at this time of year, in fact, I’d like to start a new holiday season tradition-prioritising self-care. Because how can we give anything to others when our own cups are empty?
Part of prioritising self-care is normalizing the conversation around it. And normalizing the conversation around mental health. We need to create a space for ourselves and for others to be able to speak about how we feel, what we need and what our boundaries are. We should be able to speak openly about our grief and to say no when we need to. The gatherings at this time of year are often fraught with toxic dynamics, which at any other time of year we’d feel fine to avoid. So, avoid them now if that’s what you need to do. Don’t say yes if what you’re really feeling is no. Switch off from the pretend perfect of social media, or tv if what you’re seeing is triggering you. The perfect family, relationship, Christmas, world-none of that exists. What is real are the flaws and ebbs and flows of life. The messy dynamics, the uncomfortable truths and the unspoken shame, grief and darkness that we carry. The things we are told are too much, or not enough. The exhaustion of how-to human properly in a world that often doesn’t make sense. What is also real is the simple truth that we are all making our way through life the best we can. And that none of us truly know what we are doing.
So, this Christmas and New Years take a breath. You do not have to live up to anyone’s expectations. Be kind and gentle with yourself, and if you have the capacity to, do the same with others. Hold your boundaries, say no whenever you need to. Sit with your grief, or those uncomfortable feelings that might come up and reach out to your support network if you need. Know that you are not alone, it’s so normal and understandable to feel overwhelmed and you do not need to make excuses or explain yourself to anyone. And let go of the need to please, the outdated idea of New Year's resolutions and remember to love yourself, that’s where the real magic lies.