Stress depends on how you think about it.
The holidays are always packed with parties, activities, and errands. But when my calendar is filled to the brim, I often forget to put self-care on the schedule.
Sure, I’m nurturing my relationships and having fun, but I’m often completely burnt out by the end of the holiday season because I haven’t taken the time to focus on my own needs. I hate the feeling of starting a new year when my emotional tank is empty, and it takes months to get over the repercussions of not giving myself enough personal space during the holidays.
“The holidays can act like a pressure cooker for our relationships and expectations. It’s not uncommon to experience psychological extremes–both good and bad,” says Melody Wilding, a licensed therapist and career coach. “It can be emotionally exhausting, which can hurt both your mental and physical health.”
It’s easy to see why it’s important to include time for self-care during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, but the trick is to schedule it before you’re in the thick of it. Whether that means carving out ten minutes to meditate or taking time out from holiday shopping to read a good book, a self-care routine can help you avoid a mid-holiday breakdown.
So how do you practice self-care when your schedule is completely packed? Here are five tips on avoiding holiday burnout:
1. Don’t do it alone. One of the biggest pitfalls I make during the holidays is trying to micromanage every task and appointment in my calendar. I like to feel in control, but usually, this just leaves me feeling overwhelmed by all the things I have to do by myself. By asking my husband for help wrapping presents or requesting a night of babysitting from my in-laws, I’m giving myself a little extra mental space so I can focus on the most important tasks.
“Don’t leave it up to other people to read your mind,” Wilding says. “If you want help, ask for it. Be clear about how other people can support you in stressful or busy times. Clear communication gives your loved ones insight into your stress, empowering you to tackle it in a collaborative, constructive way.”
2. Build a ritual. I thrive during times of routine when I can go about my day knowing that it will be similar to the day before and the days to come. I have always been a creature of habit and a bit of a homebody, so when the holidays throw off my groove, I struggle to find that sense of calm I so desperately need.
Wilding suggests that the key to keeping a routine during the holidays is building in smaller blocks of rituals that will allow you to better handle an unpredictable schedule.
“When things are crazy at work or home, as happens during the holidays, routines provides a sense of much-needed control and regularity,” she says. “Create a powerful morning or bedtime routine to inject a feeling of mastery into an otherwise out of control schedule.”
3. Watch your words. Whenever I’m stressed, it’s a natural inclination for me to use negative language to describe the things that are going on in my life. For instance, a dinner recipe that turns out bad becomes a complete failure. Trying to mindfully use positive language can often reduce my stress and help me face the business of the holidays with more confidence.
“During this time, be mindful not to fall into cognitive thought-traps of using extreme language like ‘Everything always goes wrong’ or ‘This will never work out,’” says Wilding. “These only serve to reinforce unproductive feelings and thoughts that are not in your best self-interest.”
4. Put yourself on the schedule. If there’s an empty spot on my calendar and someone asks me to attend yet another event, I will likely pencil it in simply because I don’t have anything else going on. However, this is a recipe for disaster during the holidays when my schedule can easily become far more than I can emotionally and physically handle. Taking the time to schedule in meditation or a favorite activity like gymnastics on an empty day before someone asks to fill that time slot reminds me that my self-care is a priority too.
Wilding says that taking personal responsibility, planning for your needs, and scheduling times for self-care show strong emotional intelligence, which can help get you through busy seasons in life without crashing and burning. “Making time for yourself amid the dozens of other demands on you is what will help reset your balance,” she says.
5. Be mindful of your emotions. The holidays can be a time of very intense highs and lows, where stress and joy can sit side by side. It’s extra important to take stock of how you are feeling, so you don’t carry around negative energy without realizing it.
“Keep tabs on your emotional state over the holidays, particularly in situations that might be triggering for you, like family dinners,” says Wilding. “If you’re upset over an earlier conversation you had with your ex-best friend from high school about evening plans, make sure you’re not carrying that negative emotion over into conversations with your family.”