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  • Writer's pictureEmily Beloof, MA, MFTi

Thriving during the holidays

How to create the circumstances for self-care and self-love during the holiday season.

Ah, the holiday season. A time when we feel everything should be "perfect" in all of our family relationships, where there seem to be scripts we are supposed to follow, and rules we are expected to abide by or to break for the sake of our family. A time when, despite most of us needing more self-care practices, we tend to do less breathing and other things that calm our nervous system and make us happy.

The following guidelines, reminders, and ideas will help you create a more self-loving, joyful, and self-honoring holiday season. If you need a little medicine to get you through the holidays intact and uncompromised, consider the following:

1. It is completely acceptable to take care of yourself during the holidays - even if other people disagree. What self-care looks like will be unique to you. Examples of what you may need to do to take care of yourself: not drinking; spending less time with family; spending more time doing activities that bring you joy (yoga, cooking, walking your dog, watching your favorite movie); ordering takeout and hanging out with friends instead of going to a family function; going to an AA meeting; talking to a good friend on the phone; sleeping in; meditating; listening to your favorite music; or going to dinner with your family.

2. It is okay not to go to family functions during the holidays. What?! You mean I could have a spa day, a calm day at home, a dinner with friends even though my family has invited me to and expects me to spend the holidays with them? Yes. Many of us have been conditioned to believe that if we love our family, we will do what they tell us to do, what works for them, or what they want from us. We are, however, in charge of our own lives and we get to decide when we say "yes" and "no." Other people can put in a suggestion, a desire, or even an order, but it is up to us to decide whether or not we want to fill it.

3. You are not responsible for your family - your family members are responsible for themselves. This is difficult to remember, especially if we have families where we are punished or experience negative consequences for setting boundaries or standing up for our own needs. It is not your fault that your mom always drinks too much, or that your brother is having trouble keeping a job, or that your parents are going to get in that weird fight they always get in this time of year. Healthy families spend time together, because they create an environment in which each person feels good, honored, seen, and respected. If this is not your experience of your family, it is okay to limit your time or decline the invitation altogether.

4. It is okay to limit the time you spend with family. You and only you can know what the circumstances, activities, and time limits are that will allow you to minimize harm and allow for a neutral or enjoyable experience during the holidays. So, whether you participate for two hours, four, or the whole day, it is okay. Allow your own needs to guide what you decide to do, rather than copying what other people are choosing to do - they are choosing for themselves and what you need might be completely different.

5. You are not a bad, selfish, mean, [insert favorite self-judgment here] person if you need space from your family during the holidays. It is important to honor your needs, even during the holidays. If the best way to take care of yourself is to limit or remove time around your family, that is okay. Sometimes, by taking space, we live into a future where we can enjoy being around our family. Want to take that yoga class in the morning and arrive later? Go ahead! Your energy will be more calm and centered when you arrive, which will have a positive effect on your and everyone else's experience.

6. It is okay not to be perfect. No choice is perfect and we are all on an ongoing journey of discovering who we are and developing the strength, confidence, and self-love to stand up for what works for us and makes us happy. If you decide to go to an event and it doesn't go well, that's okay. If you decide not to go and regret it, that's okay too. There is no "perfect" way to navigate the holidays.

The above guidelines will help you to create boundaries that allow the holiday experience to be more enjoyable. Now, here are some ideas that will invite you to allow yourself to have joy and happiness as part of the holidays.

1. Do at least one thing that you love during this holiday season. This is especially important on the days where you will be doing anything that you are not looking forward to or that may be difficult. Allow yourself the permission to integrate what you love to do.

2. See people that you love to be around. Get together with friends or family members who are easy to be joyful around. Spend time doing activities or being around these people to add laughter, validation, and happiness to this season.

3. Allow yourself to feel your feelings. If you decided not to see your family and you are sad, it's okay. If the holidays bring up feelings of grief and loss, it's okay. If you have interactions that make you angry, it's okay. Whatever is coming up, it is okay. Let it be. Notice it and let it move through you without judgement and without necessarily taking action.

4. Phone a friend. If you have experiences that are difficult and you cannot shake them - call or text a friend. It is important to connect with people who know and love you and who understand what might be difficult for you this season.

5. Make a plan for yourself. Having a plan can ease the difficulty of the holidays, ensure that you are taking care of yourself, and increase your level of enjoyment. Know what or who might be hard for you, outline how you want to participate in experiences, who you will talk to if things don't go well, and what activities you will do to comfort, enjoy, and take care of yourself.

I hope that these ideas help you to: give yourself permission to do what honors you this holiday season, allows you to open and receive joy and gratitude; encourages you to be fiercely protective of yourself; and to honor your own sacred needs. Wishing you a self-loving holiday!



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