Self-care is always important. It’s even more crucial during the holidays when stress levels seem to be at an all-time high, especially for parents surrounded by family drama, busy social schedules, and the pressure of gift-giving, all while their kids are home from school for days or weeks.
Parents tend to forget to take care of themselves during these festive times — particularly moms. However, a little bit goes a long way — even finding pockets of peace and quiet during the day can help.
Recent research shows that most Americans have some level of stress and worry about the holiday season. “75% of Americans have some concerns around the holiday season. The most common concern is financial – a stressor we have been tracking for months. Our latest survey showed that 37% of people are worried about holiday expenses, even more than the percentage of people who reported being afraid of getting sick (30%).”
In addition, women, in particular, are stressed about holiday spending. A recent Ellevest survey on financial wellness found that 38% of women are currently anxious about holiday costs, which is likely due to the financial and economic impact of the pandemic on women in the workforce. “The pandemic disproportionately impacted women,” said Ellevest CEO Sallie Krawcheck, explaining how the crisis has only widened gender gaps for investing, savings, and debt.
Then, of course, there are the more common issues like worry about family conflicts, stress over holiday entertaining and gift-giving, and general exhaustion. Put it all together, and you have a recipe for serious struggles.
Holiday stress is more than just an inconvenience; it can lead to lasting and dangerous health effects; holiday stress can manifest as headaches, insomnia, digestive issues, and breathing problems, just to name a few.
We know you have enough to worry about this holiday season. But do yourself a favor and make sure you also focus on yourself. Yes, it’s possible to tend to your own needs while also tending to your children and possibly parenting your parents, too. It’s important to remember that you can only be a good, happy parent who cares for others — especially during the holidays when you’re forced to be “on” at all times — if you’re a good, happy person who’s caring for yourself.
Make Regular Self-Care a Priority
Don’t just squeeze in self-care when you find yourself with a free moment. Schedule it as a regular part of your day, even during the holidays. Put it on your daily calendar as a part of your routine (morning or night or both). And do it at the same time because sticking to routines can be really helpful during times of chaos. “Regularly schedule a time to engage in self-care activities. Schedule self-care activities (exercise, meditation, a hobby you enjoy) at the same time each day so they become routine or set a timer or alarm to remind yourself,” suggests Dr. David R. Topor, Ph.D., MS-HPEd, a Clinical Psychologist and the Associate Director for Healthcare Professional Education at the VA Boston Healthcare System.
Give Yourself a Break, Physically and Emotionally
Make sure to cut yourself some slack and give yourself some time to breathe, relax and recharge. Get outside; take a walk or go for a run. Rest your legs; take a bath or a nap or read a book. Enjoy some quiet, alone time; no family, no kids, no emails, no phone calls, no interruptions, just you. And also, give yourself a figurative break during the holiday weeks. If things aren’t perfect, it’s okay. If the kids are bickering, or someone breaks a glass, or you burn the apple pie… it’s okay. No one is perfect, and sometimes embracing the imperfections is a form of self-care.
Prepare For Stress Ahead of Time
You know what they say: fail to plan and plan to fail. If you do not plan for the holidays and finding ways to tend to your own needs, then you’ll never succeed at self-care. You know the holidays will be stressful, and you know you’ll be spread thin, so plan ahead of time and mentally and emotionally prepare for the season. “It’s critical to focus on your emotional well-being during the holiday craziness and prepare your brain for the uptick in activities,” explains Dr. Patrick K. Porter, Ph.D., an award-winning author, speaker, entrepreneur, and neuroscience expert. “Because you know the stress is coming, you can shift your cognitive strategies to respond to the changes in your environment,” Dr. Porter told Business Insider.
Practice Gratitude and Focus on What Really Matters
It’s easy to get caught up in the holiday madness and fall into the trap of “more is more” and “bigger is better” when entertaining and gift-giving. But resist the urge to focus on the stuff, and instead focus on what really matters — family, health, love, helping others, sharing joy. By practicing gratitude and taking time each day to think about what matters to you, you’ll feel more fulfilled and less stressed by the nonsense. Dr. Cynthia Ackrill, an editor for Contentment magazine, produced by The American Institute of Stress, suggests that “we do have a wonderful opportunity this holiday season to focus on what really matters to us and our families.” It’s a valuable opportunity “to scale down unrealistic expectations and do just those things that give each of us meaning and bring us joy,” she told CNN.
Do not think of sleep as a nice to have or an expendable luxury; sleep is a necessity. In order for our bodies to repair and our brains to recharge, we need to achieve deep, effective sleep cycles. When we do not sleep enough or our sleep quality is poor, our bodies and minds won’t heal, aggravating our already fragile state during the holidays. Make sleep a priority and stick to a reasonable bedtime and bedtime routine. Allow yourself to wind down after a long day, allow yourself to relax and breathe once the kids go to bed, and do not put off sleep in favor of extra time to clean or wrap gifts. The chores can get done tomorrow, but you cannot function properly if you are sleep-deprived, especially during this busy season.
Take Time Just for You
To be clear, going to the bathroom alone or taking a shower does not count as “me-time.” Neither does eating breakfast or folding laundry in silence. Time for you is time to do what you want, to bring yourself joy, and without having to consider what anyone else needs in that brief moment. Take a walk. Meditate. Get a massage. Read a book. Exercise. Write. Paint. Take a long drive and blast your favorite (not the kids’ favorite) music. Whatever you choose to do, do it for yourself, and carve out that time to meet your own needs, even if it’s just for a few minutes a day.