The holidays have a well-earned reputation for being a time that’s all about giving. On top of giving gifts and giving our time and energy to plan and attend events, it can also feel like we’re obliged to exude a happy, carefree energy — even if that’s not how we actually feel.
During particularly stressful stretches of time, it’s important to commit to taking care of ourselves and our mind. After all, how can we truly show up for others when we’re exhausted, on edge, or overwhelmed? By doing small, mindful acts, we can maintain a sense of calm and balance, no matter how hectic the festivities might get. And when we practice self-care during the holidays, it can be surprising how quickly we can begin to experience the benefits.
When we feel mentally and physically well, we’re better able to care for ourselves and others
We can try using these 5 tips to practice self-care during the holidays
Try 10 meditations for holiday self-care
When there’s a lot going on in our lives, we tend to deprioritize taking time to care for ourselves. “It can feel as though there’s just no more space in our mind,” says Headspace co-founder and former Buddhist monk, Andy Puddicombe. “It’s really tempting to let go of the things that are most important to us and the things that are going to keep us healthy and well. But now more than ever, it’s really important that we focus on those things.”
While certain self-care rituals are labeled as a luxury, the International Self-Care Foundation defines this concept as anything people do for themselves to establish and maintain health, and to prevent and deal with illness. This may include personal hygiene, nutrition, lifestyle, environmental factors (living conditions, social habits, etc.), and socio-economic factors (income level, cultural beliefs, etc.).
If we use this self-care definition, then everyday tasks that go unnoticed — drinking water, opening a window, making our beds, brushing our teeth, preparing a home-cooked meal, making coffee — all qualify as self-care. We tend to do these things unconsciously (some might say mindlessly) while thinking about other things. But we can make these aspects of our self-care more conscious, more mindful by bringing our attention to the chore or task at hand, without distraction, without being preoccupied in our heads. This is mindfulness — the ability to be more present throughout the day, and the more we practice this life skill, the more we are looking after our mind, and the more self-care we are applying, with little extra effort.
Self-care may also look like filling our schedules with activities that benefit our physical or mental health: practicing meditation, taking a daily walk, or reading a book have been linked to reduced levels of stress and anxiety, and improvements in mood, immune function, and focus, plus increased productivity, to name a few benefits.
But let’s remember, self-care isn’t one-size-fits-all. Any act that offers the relaxation, stimulation, or joy that one seeks is valid. And that includes saying “no” to invites or requests, or spending time alone to rest and do nothing.
Given all these benefits, it can sometimes feel self-indulgent or perhaps even guilt-inducing to put ourselves first, especially during a time like the holidays when there is often so much to get done. But Andy Puddicombe notes, “Looking after yourself is not selfish; it’s not just for you. It also benefits the people around you.” When we feel mentally and physically well, we’re better able to care for and connect with others.
Throughout the season, we might try using one or all of these tips to practice self-care during the holidays:
Sometimes self-care can be as simple as taking a few minutes to stop, sit, and breathe. Whether we’re able to find a free 3 minutes or 30 minutes to take a break, it can make a world of difference for our well-being. Should we opt to use this time to do a guided meditation, research shows that people who used Headspace for only 10 days reported an 11% decrease in stress.
But we don’t necessarily have to meditate during this time. We can also simply sit and reflect. “It doesn’t matter what we call it,” says Andy. “The point is to take some time out, not to be distracted in any way, and just allow the body to decompress and unwind.”
Throughout the holidays, it can be easy to get wrapped up in all the logistics the season requires, constantly ticking things off to-do lists. Before we know it, the holidays have become less of a celebration and more of a long chore.
To bring more fun back into this season, we might carve out time to do something that we really enjoy. “Do you remember the last time you really had a sense of play and joy? Even if it’s for 5 or 10 minutes, reignite that spark,” says Andy.
Maybe that means watching nostalgic Christmas movies or reveling in the daily surprise of an advent calendar. Whatever it is, making these elements a priority can help to bring balance to the stressful moments.
While caring for the mind is a great start to self-care, caring for the body is an equally important part of the equation. During the holidays, preserving our physical health may look like having healthy sleep hygiene or practicing mindful eating to better navigate all the indulging associated with the season. It can also look like taking time to schedule a daily walk, a habit that studies show can help reduce anxiety, depression, social withdrawal, and a negative mood, while also boosting self-esteem.
There tends to be an underlying pressure during the holidays to feel perpetually happy and festive. While some people may feel truly blissful during this time, 64% of people say they experience a case of the holiday blues at some point throughout the season. It’s common for this time of year to bring up feelings of sadness, stress, anxiety, grief, and loneliness.
Should these emotions arise, we might sit with them as an act of self-care. While this can admittedly be uncomfortable, we can use meditation to navigate these feelings in a way that may help us feel much better in the end.
Meditation offers us a chance to step away from the thinking mind and instead focus on the breath, rather than our thoughts and emotions. This anchors us to the present moment and calms the mind. In stepping back from all our storylines and ruminations, we are better able to observe what’s going on in our mind; the more we observe, the more we realize we don’t have to get caught up in all the mental noise we self-create. As we learn how to acknowledge thoughts and feelings that arise during meditation, we learn to give them less weight and meaning, so we start to release them — allowing us to move forward and form a clearer, calmer, more contented space.
Sometimes, the best, biggest act of holiday self-care we can give ourselves is simply to work on letting go of the standards and expectations we so often set for ourselves at this time of year — fixed ideas created in the mind that might not match how life actually plays out. This is something else we get to observe when meditating.
When we sit with the mind, we are sitting with the present moment; we are sitting with life as it unfolds, without guarantee. We are, in fact, training the mind to be okay with uncertainty. Ultimately, we come to a place where we lessen our grip on seeking to control outcomes, and so we let go of any ideals or expectations that can often trip us up, or lead to sadness and frustration.
Looking for more meditations for holiday self-care? The Headspace app offers members several courses and single meditations that can help us prioritize our own well-being, including:
Alone Time meditation. Create a clearer, calmer mind that benefits not only you, but those around you.
Letting Go of Stress course. Enjoy a healthier mind by developing your awareness of stress and learning how to reframe negative emotions.
Reframing Loneliness course. Learn to understand what it means to be lonely and how you can feel more connected to the world around you.
Feeling Overwhelmed meditation. Give yourself a little space when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
Reset meditation. Practice letting go by resting the body and resetting the mind, helping you to feel more present and better able to enjoy whatever comes next.
Refresh meditation. Wash away any tension in the body.
Showing Gratitude meditation. Find a greater sense of gratitude for yourself, your health, and the people in your life.
Happiness course. Develop a more playful attitude towards life and begin to understand how your own happiness impacts others.
Unwind meditation. Bring your mind to a natural place of rest with a simple mindfulness exercise.
Switching off visualization. A brief “switching off” visualization designed to relax the body and mind.
Taking time out for self-care during the holidays can be a challenge. But even adopting a few, quick mindful habits is enough to make a major difference in our mental and physical health. And with our overall well-being in a good place, we can ultimately navigate this time of year more mindfully — helping us to better handle the stressful times while also reveling in those moments of joy.