The holiday season should be one long joy-fest, from Halloween until January 2. But for many of us, it’s not. There are so many ways we put pressure on ourselves: to socialize, to buy the best presents, to look perfect at holiday parties, and to host the finest holiday meals. Yet we still have all of our other responsibilities—jobs, families, homes, friendships, and other things that need time and care.
That’s why ’tis the season to practice some good old-fashioned self-care.
Self-care is a fairly simple concept, but it can be a powerful weapon against stress. Sometimes when we pay more attention to the little stuff—like eating, sleeping, and moving our body—the big stuff seems a lot more manageable.
Building resilience through self-care is like weight lifting. On the first day you hit the weight room, you struggle with 10-pound dumbbells, but if you make a habit of it, it won’t take long to get stronger. Making a habit of self-care exercises can help strengthen your resistance to life’s slings and arrows as well as the stresses of the holiday season.
A Strong Base
In the 1940s, psychologist Abraham Maslow posited that personality was pyramid-shaped. At the top of the pyramid is the self-actualized you, the one who has reached his or her full potential. But that self-actualization rests on a foundation of more basic needs, such as food, water, safety, and shelter. Taking care of these basic needs helps you move toward your peak self.
That’s why when you’re stressed out, overwhelmed, depressed, or anxious, it pays to do a check-in with yourself.
Are you hungry? Thirsty? Tired? Take care of these. Are you too hot or too cold? Do you have a stomachache? Do you need to take a shower? Address your basic needs.
Sometimes all it takes is a small adjustment—a little snack or a cozy sweater—to start feeling better.
What Does Self-Care Look Like to You?
Once you’ve addressed your basic needs, you can branch out in your self-care efforts. Here are a few areas to explore:
Unplug: Try a media detox. Many of us have been glued to our phones, laptops, or tablets for days, obsessively surfing for election news. Now that the holiday season is here, we may be using our devices to shop online or write holiday letters and emails. One of the healthiest things you can do for your mental health, however, is to step away from Internet. As much as possible, create boundaries for hours of the day when you will or won’t be logged on.
Go outside: Yes, it’s probably cold where you are and likely to be raining, sleeting, or snowing. Still, finding some warm, waterproof gear, putting it on, and setting feet to earth is one of the easiest ways to change your outlook. Studies, like one done last year at Stanford, have shown that walking in nature combats depression.
Beautify your surroundings: Don’t go at this all at once. If your place is chaotic, find a small corner to concentrate on. Go through a stack of papers or wipe down the kitchen counter. Put a paper bag on the floor of your closet and put clothes in it to give away. Buy a new piece of art.
Treat your body well: Our plates overflow this time of year with rich meals, drinks, and sweet treats. There are a lot of emotions and nostalgia connected to favorite dishes, . but there’s also value in making room in your diet for healthier foods. Eating more fruits and vegetables has the power to make us not only healthier, but happier. You don’t have to go vegan or paleo—just add a piece of fruit to breakfast or a vegetable to lunch. Subtract your weekly doughnut or daily bag of chips.
Treating your body well also means movement. While it may not sound like pampering, taking 30 minutes per day to concentrate entirely on your well-being by going for a run, riding your bike, or visiting the gym can be a very powerful kind of self-care. Exercise is medicine—for the mind as well as the body.
Create something: Tapping into your creative side is a great way to practice self-care. Write a poem, make a collage, arrange some flowers, or play the recorder—it doesn’t much matter what you do, only that you do it. The process is the point, not the outcome, so don’t pressure yourself to make things perfect.
Dance: Whether you do it by yourself in the privacy of your kitchen or in a club surrounded by 200 others, letting music move you is a natural antidepressant.
Get in touch with yourself: Spend some time this busy holiday season in self-reflection. One of the most potent tools against stress and depression is to reacquaint yourself with who you are. Tally your strengths so you can tap into them easier. Think about the things that are important to you. Reacquainting yourself with your own values can bring a calm and clarity that an adult coloring book just can’t match.
Miriam Wolf is the editor of The FruitGuys Magazine newsletter.
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