Foundational Self-Care for the Holidays

© Sandee Nebel

The holidays are here, and there’s no denying they will be unlike any other year as we continue walking through the pandemic. So much is “new” again. We have the additional pressure of deciding how or if to gather, and coping with the changes and losses we have all experienced as a global society.

There are a lot of feelings coming up for people – anger, disappointment, sadness, grief, along with feeling melancholy, fearful or lonely. You may also be dealing with collective anxiety or even self-consciousness when eating in front of other people.

It’s important to validate these feelings. Keep in touch with supportive people; these might be others who are also on this journey of personal growth, or a therapist, coach or other supportive professional.

Whether virtual or in-person, remember that anytime you gather with others – especially family – these get-togethers can impact your spiritual, mental, emotional and physical health, so you must take care of all these parts of yourself.

Here are some practices to help you build a strong foundation for health and self-care:

  • Get enough sleep. If you feel like you need to take a nap, take one. This is about self-compassion, and nurturing yourself.
  • Hydrate by drinking enough water throughout the day.
  • Get outside into nature and experience fresh air, natural light, and the benefits of walking.
  • Dress and groom yourself. A lot of clients share how much better they feel when they make these efforts. It can be as simple as washing your face and combing your hair, or dressing in something that feels good, and that you like how you look wearing.
  • Practice acceptance. We may all need to make tough choices this year. Accept that others need to do what they feel comfortable, and you must do the same. That might mean saying, “No, I won’t be coming to see you,” or, “No, thank you, I do not want to eat that.” Be firm and don’t leave wiggle room with, “I can’t,” or “I’m not sure,” or “I shouldn’t…” Acknowledge your truth and accept that the other person may be upset or disappointed.
  • Be alert to your feelings. Remember the expression HALT – don’t allow yourself to become too hungry, angry, lonely, or tired, because being in these states make you more susceptible to making less healthy decisions.
  • Focus on gratitude and appreciation. Make gratitude lists, and write letters and cards (or even emails and texts), telling people what you appreciate about them and your relationship.

When it comes to food and eating, take conscious actions. For example, avoid any advance restricting ahead of a big meal (“If I eat less now, I can overeat later”), or compensating when alone (“I was ‘good’ at the party, so I can reward myself with extra food when I’m home alone or cleaning up in the kitchen”).

If you’re eating with other people, even just the members of your own household, or a small outdoor gathering, try to eat more mindfully by slowing down, being present, and really savoring your food. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying food that agrees with your body.

You can also practice that time-honored etiquette rule of putting down your fork between bites. This also slows down your eating and helps you be more conscious and present.

In yoga, we encourage you to keep your eyes on your own mat. When eating with others, keep your eyes on your own plate. In other words, focus on what you are eating, not what other people are doing, or what they may be eating that you’re not, etc.

It’s okay to be uncomfortable at times, especially these trying times. To support the discomfort, stay connected with people, possibly bookending an experience by calling or texting a friend before and after.

I also recommend having an anchor, something physical you can bring to the table that reminds you of healthier habits and taking care of yourself. For example, a piece of jewelry, a stone or pendant in your pocket, or an encouraging message to yourself.

As someone who is on telehealth calls 30-40 hours a week with my clients, I know that having a social get-together on Zoom may not be desirable, but it’s way better than not connecting at all. Even if it’s just a short time, seeing friends and family’s faces can keep you from isolating and give you the social support you need.

Maybe these holidays are an opportunity to start new rituals and traditions, like hiking, kayaking, or walking through the woods. However you choose to celebrate the holidays, or whatever situation you’re faced with through no choice of your own, include a plan for ways to nourish your body, mind and soul.