Holiday Season Self-Care

Throughout our series on Self-Care we’ve discussed a number of daily activities you can do to support your mental wellness.  However, frequently during the holiday season stress rises and usually the first thing people forget to do is take care of themselves! Plus, the holidays carry with them a whole host of new triggers for stress and anxiety - so new coping mechanisms are needed as well.  Below we’ll discuss some of these new types of holiday stress and ways to ensure you’re still focused on your mental wellness through the season. 

Holiday Socializing - Put self-care first

The biggest type of stress you’ll encounter during this season is the pressure to put everyone else’s needs ahead of your own.  Whether it is breaking into your budget to buy that “perfect” gift, or pushing yourself to socialize at holiday events or gatherings, the pressure is on to forget your own needs in the face of what others might want from you. 

This can be particularly stressful for parents, as often you’re encouraged to create the perfect holiday experience for your children.  Which means you end up juggling your own busier schedule - on top of school going on break so your kids are home as well!

Here are some things that can help you stay focused on you:

  1. Establish a self-care morning or evening routine - pick a time that you know you can be alone for a few minutes and get in the habit of making this time all about you.  Do some journaling, put on some stress busting aromatherapy lotion, have a nice cup of tea or coffee, or have a short mindful meditation.  Put everyone else aside and make this time just for you.
  2. Respect your budget - Before you get pulled into a million activities and needled to join into various gift giving events set your budget and be prepared to stick to it!  Even just having a number written down gives you the excuse to politely decline and say “Unfortunately it just isn’t in the budget this year, but I hope you have a wonderful time!”
Four presents wrapped in off white paper and tied with twine, evergreen branches and berries against a blue background with snow and cardboard stars.
The perfect gift comes from your heart, not from your wallet


  1. Re-Gift and creatively gift - sometimes your co-worker isn’t giving you the best gift for you, but it might be the best gift for your mom. Don’t see re-gifting as bad, just see it as a gift to your budget and time.  Perhaps your brother doesn’t need another random gift, but could really use a home-cooked meal. Look for ways you can give a gift that substitutes caring for cash.  
  2. Re-define abundance - You may want to give your kids (or friends and family) the perfect gifts, or a holiday full of decorations and details.  Remember that your self-worth is more valuable than your net-worth - an abundant holiday is one full of love, not one full of things.  
  3. Skip events if you are overloaded - you aren’t alone this season, and you aren’t the only person who feels like they can’t say no.  People will understand if you tell them you are busy and can’t make it to their cookie decorating party.  Remember to schedule self-care time as well - put a night in your calendar to just stay home and enjoy yourself and your immediate family, just like you would for everyday self-care.

Holiday Grief - when this year is different from last

Grief takes on many forms - whether you lost a loved one, or you are not able to travel to be with them - traditions can be harder to handle if you’re missing the important people who helped you create those traditions.  When I moved to Pittsburgh from Denver for the first 3 holidays I couldn’t afford to travel home - so I had to create new traditions despite missing my large family gatherings. 

Tips to work through grief and a sense of loss during the season:

  1. Acknowledge this year will be different, and this year will be tough - write it on a post-it and put it on your bathroom mirror, or make it part of your daily mantra.  Just being aware that you will have to get through this year can make getting through it a little easier.  
  2. Pick which traditions you want to keep, and which you want to change - Perhaps a particular tradition sparks more sadness, or doesn’t make sense without the person who embraced it. We always served brussel sprouts at Christmas Dinner because my Uncle Andrew loved them, but when we lost him it didn’t seem right to keep a dish that was there just for him - so we switched to green beans.  It’s okay to let traditions change. 
  3. Create a Memory Stocking or Memory Box - Let everyone contribute and pick a time to go through the “gifts” of good memories, or spend a moment each day writing down your own favorite memories and then re-visit them for the holiday.  Holding onto the good memories can make the loneliness seem a bit further away.
A slightly beat up teddy bear with a cardboard sign that reads "Looking for a friend" in the middle of a snowy street
If you’re distant from family, be open to letting your friends become your new tradition
  1. Find a new friend to add to your family - when I was away from my family in my first years in Pittsburgh I was so grateful that one of my new friends invited me along to their Thanksgiving dinner.  Sometimes the best family is the one you make for yourself, so be open to friends who want to celebrate with you.
  2. Invite a new friend to fill the empty seat - We found the tradition of leaving an empty seat for our lost loved one to be a bit too sad, so instead we invited a new friend to fill it instead.  Don’t think of this as replacing your loved one, but as finding a way to continue to fill your home with love and joy.  I was lucky enough to be this friend when I moved to Pittsburgh, and it can be amazing from both sides.  


Remember to support yourself through positive daily affirmations throughout the season. The best gift you can give yourself is going into January with less stress and happiness. We hope you are able to give yourself that gift this year!

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Sarah Knight
Sarah returned to her education after 10 years of real world experience.
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