Self-Care: A Priority During the Holidays

Colleen Moran, MPH MS
Wisconsin Population Health Service Fellow
Wisconsin Division of Public Health
Madison, WI
While as of yesterday, daylight is increasing by a few minutes each day, it sure doesn’t feel like it yet. While we’re in the midst of dark, cold, busy days, and holiday craziness, this blog post is dedicated to remembering that to be the best versions of ourselves (and consequently the best public health defenders we can be), we need to remember to practice some self-care, particularly at this time of year. Now when I say that, please know that I am not a shining example of this type of behavior: I’m dragging myself to the finish line that is New Year’s like everyone else. This blog post, in many ways, is a gentle reminder to myself to remember to slow down this time of year and take special care.

To address this topic for my blog post, I have been compiling a list of  best practices for self-care. Some are specifically meant to apply to the holiday season, but I think most carry over nicely into reminders we can use 365 days a year. Below is what I have found through my research to be the most commonly prescribed self-care practices. Enjoy!

  • Do things in moderation. “This is the time of the year where it is easy to over-indulge.  We find it easy to neglect healthy eating.  Sleeping patterns may be altered as we have more activity in our days.  We can over spend on gifts for those on our lists. The list of things that seem to trap us in extravagance may differ from person to person, however, it is common to be swept up into excessive behavior. Aristotle wisely stated, “all things in moderation.”  This is an excellent gauge for us to recall.[I]
  • Evaluate “obligations” and give yourself permission. Just because it is something you have always done or a place you have always gone to doesn’t mean you have to do it this year. It is okay to say no. “No.” can actually be a complete sentence. Consider it part of your preventative health (mental and physical) care plan.”[ii]It is natural when you begin to switch your thoughts to self-care to feel guilty, irresponsible or even selfish.  You need to give yourself permission. Allow yourself to do “whatever” it is that you want.  If you want to say “no” to a certain event, or “no” to overspending on gifts, or “no” to hosting an event, give yourself the right to do what is best for you.  This is the beginning of self-care. Learn to value the importance of setting boundaries.”[iii]
  • Family: "There is a lot of pressure (just watch any hour of tv with commercials during this time) to spend time with family, gathered around a lovely table, smiling, and sharing warm memories! Not everyone has those kinds of family experiences and it is ok. Spend time with people you enjoy. Remember that friends can be the family you choose."[iv]
  • Involve all of your senses. "When we invoke our sense, we experience things on different levels. Think of ways to include sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing into your self-care. Have a candlelight bubble bath scented with aromatic products. Sit and watch your favorite holiday movie while wrapped up in a soft blanket. Play music that is relaxing. Experiment with way to incorporate all of your sense during times of stress refreshing your body and soul." [v]

  • Give up expectations. "The holidays . . . can set us up for unrealistic expectations. It almost seems a "magical" time of year and we dream of the perfect holiday. Many people struggle with depression and high anxiety over the holidays. The crisis hotlines have an increase in calls. Domestic violence rises . . . Past experiences, the loss of loved ones, the loss of a job or financial diffuculty all seems ot heighten during this time of  year. One of the best ways to take care of yourself during this emotionally trying time, is to give up your expectations . . . As you relinquish these ideas, you are able to open  yourself up to experiencing greater joy in teh reality of the moment. Let go of false illusions and celebrate the moment. Wherever you are in your life this year, take care of yourself first. Practice self-love abdundantly." [vi]

Best wishes for a relaxing winter full of self-reflection and self-care!