Self-care Around the Holidays

Maggie Bowlby, M.Ed
Blog Post

Note: Many people do not celebrate Judeo-Christian holidays at this time of year. The principles of self-care in this article could apply to any season or time of high demand.

“Self-care” is a buzzword these days, invoking images of bubble baths and face masks on influencers whose income is tied to their Instagram following. On the other side of the screen in the real world, caring for oneself is not always grid-worthy. Around the holidays, it can become even easier than usual to forget to care for oneself amongst the gift-shopping and cookie-baking. This is especially true for folks in caring professions. During the holidays, it is more important than ever to figure out what self-care looks like in your real life.

It may feel impossible to access self-care without the ability to cancel a whole day of meetings to hit the spa. Sometimes the most important self-care is meeting your basic needs for food, sleep, water, setting boundaries and using your support system. When your basic needs are met, you may find yourself with more emotional energy to be present for your family, care for yourself in challenging moments, and find joy in the coming holiday season.

As we prepare for this busy season, we can also think about ways to support our neurodivergent clients to care for themselves. How can we help them identify their own needs, and self-advocate? Can we help them identify barriers to meeting those needs, and make a plan to address them? How can caring for ourselves as a professional help the folks we work with care for themselves?

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, AKA Eat, Drink, Sleep

You cannot enjoy this holiday season and give to others as your most authentic self without meeting your own basic needs. This concept is referred to as Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs – stating that a person must meet their most basic needs for oxygen, shelter, sleep, food, and water before they can make progress, meet goals, learn, or fully engage in the holidays. This means that it is more important to get enough sleep than it is to stay up late finishing a shopping list. It is more important to eat lunch than to attend one more meeting. We don’t need to eat less or exercise more — we need that energy to meet the demands of the season.

When you are rested and fed, the time that you spend engaging with clients, family, and yourself is more fulfilling. It is okay for you to take space to meet your basic needs — they matter and you matter. Would you ever tell a client not to have a snack during your meeting? NO! You can model meeting your own basic needs for your client by bringing a snack to session or actually taking the bathroom break instead of holding it. You can incorporate a check-in during the beginning and/or middle of your session with your client — “Do you have any needs that you can care for right now?”

Set Boundaries: Easier Said Than Done

Maslow tells us that if our most basic physical needs are met, the next most important of our needs is safety, including psychological safety — meaning engaging in spaces where we feel safe. As much as we all enjoy the holidays, there are several things that threaten our psychological safety. One way we might find our anxiety raised is overscheduling as we try to complete our usual work responsibilities in addition to the holiday chores. Another stressor is spending time with family who might make judgmental comments on our life choices, political leanings, and bodies. How can we create psychological safety for ourselves in this season? Boundaries are a huge challenge for many of us in caring professions because we not only love caring for others, but we feel enormous responsibility toward those we care for and therefore pressure to step outside of our boundaries to help them. It can feel like setting a boundary is letting someone down or hurting someone’s feelings. In reality, setting boundaries helps an individual to feel more aligned and less resentful, allowing them to more fully participate in a relationship, activity, or holiday.

One way to think about boundaries is that boundaries are not about what other people will do or not do, they are about what I will do or not do. For example, I can ask a relative not to comment on my body, but at the end of the day, I cannot control them. I can respect myself by holding the boundary that I do not spend time with people who comment on my body, and I can plan to exit any conversation where it happens more than once.

Another boundary you might set this time of year is to take time off of your work in advance of the holiday in order to allow yourself time to prepare for the holiday in a way that feels good for you. Or if that is not possible, you might delegate the holiday preparation to someone else in your household. You might plan extra rest into your schedule INSTEAD of additional preparation, because in this case rest IS preparation for the social demands to come. This is not “letting your clients down” or “leaving them in the lurch.” This is actually showing trust in your clients — they will be okay without you for a week. You are also modeling prioritizing for your clients, and showing them that it is okay to prioritize their joy and their psychological safety over work and productivity. We can ask clients, “What parts of the holiday are hard for you?” and “How can you lighten your load in this season to help deal with the additional demands?” We can discuss what boundaries our clients need to set for the holidays, and help them make a plan for how to hold them — just as we can make these plans for ourselves.

Finally — Supports!!

What resources and supports do you have access to? Family? Friends? Professionals? Services? Our society sometimes forgets the “it takes a village” mindset in favor of individualism. Being aware of what resources and supports you have around you is the first step to accessing them, especially around this time of year. Within your family and social circle, there are people with a variety of different talents, who care about each other — how can you share the burdens of the season? Perhaps one person enjoys baking,but the other finds it stressful, but perhaps the person who is stressed out by baking enjoys gift wrapping. For people with financial resources, one might outsource tasks such as house cleaning, hiring a babysitter for an afternoon to free up time, or order dinner instead of cooking. There may be services in your community, such as Lasagna Love that will bring you a meal if you need it, no questions asked. It is okay to utilize resources to free up time to rest — you need it. Part of accessing your supports also means keeping up with the usual things that fill your bucket, ex: a therapy appt, physical therapy, taking walks, doing a hobby. With our clients, we can help them identify supports available to them and make a plan to access them during any challenging season.

Wishing you peace and self-care this holiday season!