As you start traveling again, possibly after not seeing family and friends for a long while, you might be tempted to go balls-to-the-wall and throw out every mindful practice you may have learned when in pandemic lockdown. Seasonal celebrations during the pandemic evoked a foreign, ferocious next-level kind of holiday stress with angst, Zoom overload, and loneliness.
Before you sled head first, mouth open wide, into the tray of frosted snowman sugar cookies, guzzle all of the boozy egg nog, out-karaoke your aunt, and stay up into the wee hours streaming that holiday movie marathon, take a breath.
If you’re planning to board a plane or to invite people into your home this year during the holidays, you don’t have to sacrifice self-care to make room and time for everyone else and the fun activities you may have missed last year. Easing back into some sense of normalcy doesn’t mean you have to take on holiday stress of years past.
You can marry the slowed-down vibe from the pandemic holidays at home with the pre-pandemic bustle to celebrate with loved ones in a balanced way that leaves you time for self-care and a less stressed, more chill approach to the season’s festivities.
5 Self-Care Strategies to Calm Stress
If being the life of the party is your thang and you want to make up for lost time, it’s possible to celebrate without going overboard, waking up hung over, and charging for the coffee pot—ignoring any little voices begging for Santa-shaped pancakes.
And if you’re introverted and are traveling away from the sanctuary of home this holiday season, you can and should implement boundaries when you feel zapped and in need of alone time to recharge.
These five self-care strategies can help both personality types avoid unnecessary holiday stress:
- Schedule time to do something you want that’s just for you each day. If you’re not at home among your things and in your usual routine, you’ll have to approach this one with flexible boundaries. If that one thing you need for self-care is exercise, you might need to set your alarm and get up before everyone else does to dip out for a run or complete a quick bodyweight HIIT workout in the basement. Or maybe you need an avocado mask, candlelight, brown sugar body scrub, and a soak in a hot bath to feel recentered. Whatever that thing is, try to make time for it every day or every other day even if it means saying no to one outing or asking your inlaws to put the kids to bed.
- Unplug from social media, pause push notifications, and leave your inbox unread. Let your cell phone, iPad, or mobile device die, and don’t rush to charge it. Take the morning, afternoon, or evening away from notifications. Don’t check your work email for a day… or two, even three! Do you need to scroll Instagram to see another holiday cookie or top on TikTok to see what’s trending? While it may seem like you’re taking a breather from the world around you with passive scrolling, you’re still expending energy and your brain is working quickly to interpret the stimulus. If you need a break or feel bored, head outside for a walk, read a book, talk to the person next to you, play a board game, or complete a crossword puzzle. Give your brain a break from screens.
- Sleep in or go to bed early—no apologies or excuses needed. Task someone else with taking the dog out, tucking the kids in, or cleaning up the kitchen. If you feel run down and want to hit the hay early but have people around, welcome them to fend for themselves. Ditto for sleeping in later in the morning. Show people where they can find the leftovers; leave a charcuterie board out with games or the apple remote; set up a breakfast bar the night before with muffins, a breakfast casserole in the fridge with heating instructions, the coffee pot programmed and teas set out on the counter.
- Create something. Whether you can’t sew a button and consider scrapbooking severe punishment or you can knit a scarf in your sleep and adore making your own candles, approaching a task creatively can do wonders for your spirit. People often marvel at the imaginations of children, but we all have that ability to dream and visualize vividly—we can just lose sight of it as we age and responsibilities loom. Pick a craft that suits your strengths and temperament and make a mess. Cook a meal from scratch. Play the piano. Finger paint with the kids. Construct a holiday village with Lego bricks. Fold festive pine tree napkins for the holiday table. Write a poem.
- Spend time in nature, even if it’s freezing. If the weather is frightful where you are, layer with form-fitting thermal or heat-tech long sleeves and leggings to keep heat close to your body. Add pants, a sweatshirt, knit socks, gloves, and a hat, then head out. Immerse yourself among trees if you can. The Japanese custom of shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, involves planting yourself in the stillness of nature and allowing the serenity to wash over you, reducing stress and invoking a feeling of calm.
You don’t have to practice each of these five self-care ideas every day during the holidays—just when you start to feel like your batteries need to be recharged or when you want a little alone time.
If you tend to feel tapped out or on edge more easily around certain people and you’ll be close to those people this holiday season, fall back on one or more of these strategies to keep your cool. If someone says or does something you find triggering and you need an escape, tell that person that you’re taking a break to practice self-care. Here are some ways to do that:
- “I’d love to talk to you more about this but I’m feeling a little overwhelmed right now. I’ll come back to you in 10 minutes (or insert however much time you need) after I have a chance to take a quick break.”
- “Hey, [your partner, friend, family member, or neighbor], I could really use 15 minutes to take a break. Would you mind [setting the table, helping the in-law, feeding the baby, taking the dog for a quick walk, etc.] for me while I tap out for a few?”
- Promote self-care in others if you observe that they might need it. “Hi, [mom, spouse, child, sister, uncle], you’re doing such an amazing job at [task]. Would you like me to finish it up for you so you can go take a break for a little while?”
Self-Care Activities to Banish Holiday Stress
We typically associate self-care with quiet time spent reading, meditating, practicing breathing exercises, and journaling. These worthwhile de-stress activities could take a back seat during the holiday season when family meals, traveling, cocktail parties, and keeping the out-of-school activities flowing for the kids sap your energy.
This holiday season, what if you combined fun self-care activities with spending time with family and friends? You can easily make time for both as long as you pair the partner with the right activity. This list of suggestions can spark inspiration:
- Snow fun with the kids: If it’s a winter wonderland where you are, layer up and take the antsy, overactive kids outside for a snowball fight, sledding, cross-country skiing, snowman building, or a competition to see who can shovel strips of the driveway faster. You’ll all get a workout, get some frosty fresh air, and lift your spirits with laughter.
- Chopped challenge, home version: With family and friends visiting, everyone’s gotta eat, right? Why not combine our need for nourishment with some healthy competition? Scour your pantry and fridge for two everyday ingredients and two oddball ingredients, give the same mystery ingredients to each cook and let them use any other thing in the kitchen they need to create a dish. Put a time limit of 30 minutes to complete the dish, and pick a panel of judges to taste each dish. The winner gets bragging rights and to sit back while everyone else cleans up.
- Instead of (always) meeting at a bar, meet friends for hikes or fitness classes: We tend to imbibe more heavily during the holidays ‘cuz baby it’s cold outside. Instead of warming your belly with a hot toddy or mulled wine, why not get the girls together for a pilates class, meet your best mate at a rock climbing gym, or take a long hilly walk? The time flies fast when you’re sweating it out with a soul sister.
- Game night: Invite family and friends of all ages over for a potluck dinner or snacks and a mix of board games and physical challenges. Who can run 400 meters the fastest? How long can everyone hold a plank? How many push-ups does the losing team of Pictionary need to perform? Who can build the contraption that can launch marshmallows the farthest in the backyard? Keep everyone on their toes with physical, mental, and creative challenges. Hysterical fits of laughter are like an ab workout, right?
- Organize a crafty holiday gift-making party: Use some of the ideas from the self-care gift section of this article to get a few friends or family members together for homemade gifts. Crave more quiet time? Make this a date-night activity. After an easy dinner of roast chicken and root vegetables or cashew-crusted cod with roasted cauliflower, light a fire and settle in with your boo to make DIY candles, cookie mix in mason jars, and scented body scrub. You can enjoy being creative while gifting friends and family unique homemade gifts.
If you’re into the idea of homemade gifts, the next section provides more specific self-care gift ideas.
Self-Care Gift Ideas
Know a frazzled father or mom to multiple children, an overworked uncle, a neglected neighbor, a busy bestie, or a comfortless cousin who could benefit from a self-care gift? Sure, gift cards to the spa are appreciated and Doordash dollars can help, but why not make something more heartfelt and unique?
These self-care gift ideas are sure to please:
- Light the way to a relaxing night at home with the twinkle from homemade olive oil candles. All you need are small mason jars, wire, candle wicks, a wire cutter, olive oil, and any fragrant bits like rosemary or lavender.
- Aromatherapy is a thing. This easy-as-pie potpourri smells and looks divine in clear glass containers. Bonus points for the self-care idea of forest bathing while collecting pine cones.
- The classic cookie mix in a jar makes holiday treats easy and fills a friend’s kitchen with warm, sugary smells. This vegan and paleo-friendly version uses almond flour in place of bleached, all-purpose flour and only requires the addition of melted coconut oil and water to form the dough. If you prefer a low-glycemic recipe, substitute coconut sugar for allulose or monk fruit.
- Who says you need overpriced creams and serums to make your skin glow? These homemade face mask ideas include recipes for every skin type.
- Enough quality sleep tends to be in short supply for nearly all of us these days. Make your own sleep masks with this included printable template.
- For those who love to cook or grill, homemade spice blends make tasty gifts. These homemade seasoning blends include spices and dried herbs for maximum flavor without sugar or additives.
- Bath time isn’t just for kids to relax and unwind for bed. Encourage adults to soak in a tub filled with warm water and homemade bath salts. Add any essential oils, dried flowers, or rose petals for a soothing fragrance.
- Spread an attitude of gratitude with this printable template for easy-to-make gratitude jars. This writing practice takes less than five minutes and the jar is a great visual reminder to get into the daily habit of giving thanks.
Even if it’s just five or 10 minutes each day or 15 minutes every other day, self-care around the holidays can help you stay sane during this more potentially stressful time of year when you’re out of your element or normal routine. Spread the self-care message to others, too, with creative do-it-yourself self-care gifts that advocate for more “me” time.