Emotional Health•Healing • 7 minutes to read
Why is it that the most wonderful time of the year is also one of the most stressful times of the year?
We tend to get so caught up in everything we’re doing—all the bright lights, decorations, shopping, and festivities—we lose sight of the why. Why is this the most wonderful time of the year?
As Christians, this is the time of year we celebrate the birth of Jesus, our Savior. It is through this great gift that we experience salvation and relationship with God.
And while we can wholeheartedly acknowledge this truth, which brings such peace and comfort to our souls, we still find ourselves running in circles and exhausted throughout the holiday season.
I spent years trying to outrun the holidays. The expectations were ridiculous: buy the perfect gifts; decorate the most beautiful tree; bake the best cookies and desserts; create a festive holiday home; be everything to everyone…and the list goes on and on.
While I now recognize I put these expectations on myself, at the time, I couldn’t see it. I spent many holiday seasons exhausted, irritable, and stretched so thin that staying focused on “the reason for the season” was impossible. Inevitably, I became the worst version of myself.
At some point, after a series of holiday crash-and-burn experiences, it dawned on me: there’s got to be a better way.
Since then, I’ve worked on practicing better, more healthy ways of navigating the holiday season, so I can be my best self for the holidays. Here are a few of my favorites!
Sleep is Your Superpower
I talk about this a lot because it’s so true! Sleep does so many amazing things for our brain and body, and yet, it’s usually the lowest priority on the list. Especially this time of year, we easily sacrifice our sleep and think, I’ll catch up on my sleep after the holidays. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work this way.
Our brain and body need consistent sleep. For most of us, this means 7-9 hours of sleep every night. Here’s why: sleep is foundational for the organization and maintenance our brain and body needs on a daily basis. Things like memory consolidation, neural communication and reorganization, repairing damaged cells, restoring energy, and releasing rejuvenating chemicals, hormones, and proteins, all happen while we sleep.
This is why sleep is your superpower!
During the holiday season, when our expectations for ourselves might be a little higher than normal and we have a never-ending to-do list, it’s so important to get the sleep our brain and body needs.
Self-Care Sets the Stage
When we are intentional about taking care of ourselves, it empowers us to better care for others.
I know what you’re thinking. Even the thought of adding one more thing to the list during this busy season may feel overwhelming.
And depending on your season of life—taking care of small kids, both parents working full time, kids in sports and other activities, caretakers for elderly parents—adding time for self-care may be challenging.
But the truth is, self-care sets the stage. It provides the backdrop, so to speak, and creates the conditions that allow us to do everything we need to do from a place of heath.
Self-care is not a one-size-fits-all process. It is unique to you and, sometimes, requires a bit of creativity. Here are a few suggestions:
- Baking Christmas cookies or holiday desserts.
- Inviting friends over for coffee.
- Having your spouse take the kids out for a few hours, so you can have the house to yourself.
- Doing something for physical self-care: walking, yoga, hiking, bike riding.
- Going on a hunt for the best decorated house in your neighborhood (either walking or driving).
- Spending one hour a day on yourself: reading, journaling, taking a nap, drawing…whatever it is that provides rest and rejuvenation for your mind, body, and soul.
I’m sure your list is better than mine, but here’s the point: self-care is an opportunity for us to invest in ourselves because we’re worth it! And, we don’t need to do this alone. Invite others into it. Have fun with it!
Boundaries Have Your Back
Having healthy boundaries is one of the best things we can do for ourselves. In many ways, boundaries provide an invisible parameter set by us, for us, to keep us safe: physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, financially…and anywhere else we need to feel safe.
In fact, when we have healthy boundaries in place, they allow us to function within our capacity. Many people think of boundaries as the back up plan, instead of realizing boundaries are the plan. They are pre-planned and intentional things we do to keep us safe. This is how we proactively protect ourselves during the holiday season.
For example, if you know being with family for extended periods of time is stressful and typically leads to strained relationships, then creating healthy boundaries around time with family is crucial. In this case, healthy boundaries could include:
- not having another big function within three days of time with family.
- reaching out to group members for support prior to time with family.
- getting good sleep leading up to time with family.
- practicing a mindset of grace and compassion (for yourself too) prior to time with family.
- setting specific and reasonable time limits for time with family.
- planning something relaxing and fun to do after time with family.
This list could go on and on, but the point is to set healthy boundaries around time with family. Both before and after, preparing yourself so you’re in a good headspace to be with family and rewarding yourself for staying healthy through the process.
In many ways, boundaries have your back! They will keep you safe and healthy during this holiday season.
Give Priceless Gifts
This might seem like an easy thing to do, but it’s often harder than you think.
Giving priceless gifts requires proactive and intentional work to develop a mindset of giving: not financial giving or physical gifts, but giving of ourselves to those around us. Here are a few examples.
When was the last time you consciously paid attention to someone? In the moment, you were totally engaged; not thinking of what you were going to say, or the next task on your to-do list, but simply listening. Or maybe you got down on the floor to play with your kids, being present and attending to their need for connection. Giving attention to others is a great gift!
How well does your kindness-meter work? For many of us, it’s much easier to show kindness to the people we love, than to show kindness to strangers. During this holiday season, we have the opportunity to be friendly, considerate, and express genuine care for those around us, wherever we are: in the grocery store, while Christmas shopping, with our neighbors, and to the person who delivers packages to our front door. Kindness is not overrated.
Do you have compassion for others? And for yourself? During the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it’s easy to lack compassion. Often, we are in survival mode, running from one thing to another, (probably sleep deprived) and it shows up in our behaviors. Regardless of how we got there, in the moment, we become the worst version of ourselves.
- Instead of slowing down and talking gently to our kids, we yell at them.
- Instead of asking our spouse nicely to do something, we act passive-aggressive; slamming cupboards and making sarcastic comments.
- Instead of being sensitive to others and their holiday plans, we threaten to not show up to the family celebration unless it happens on our schedule.
- Instead of having regular self-care, setting healthy boundaries, and creating margin in our life, we run ourselves ragged; it all becomes too much and we emotionally explode on the people around us.
Been there, done that…and that…and that. Having compassion for ourselves and others is huge when it comes to navigating the holiday season.
Giving attention, kindness, and compassion to those around us are priceless gifts. It shows our humanity. It reveals God’s love: the love He showed us, so we could show His love to others. It allows us to reflect Christ and says to others, “I see you. I hear you. You have value. You are loved.”
No matter where you are on your healing journey, hopefully this gives you a few ideas on how to proactively prepare for the holidays.
If we want to be our best self for the holidays, our mindset needs to exceed simply surviving the holidays. Our mindset and focus needs to be on experiencing the joy that comes through God’s gift to us—the birth of Christ; His son, our Savior—and reflecting this gift to those around us. Loving God and loving others makes for a great holiday season!