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8 Ways to Find Peace in the Pre-Holiday Craze: A Guide to Mindful Self-Care

Each year for the last few years I have personally struggled to keep my anxiety in check with all the holiday parties, gatherings, and to-dos, but I have come to realize that a lot of those expectations that weigh so heavily on my mental health are ones that I put upon myself. You might not think you're in the same boat, but let me ask this, do you have the symptoms below? Stress can manifest itself in many different ways that we might not even realize.

Does the holiday season stress you out?

  • No, I am so excited!

  • A little bit

  • More than I'd like it too

  • SO BAD - don't even wanna talk about it

Physical symptoms of stress may show as having abnormally tight muscles, headaches, digestive upset, and being extra tired despite adequate rest. Phycological symptoms can include anxiety (🙋‍♀️), mood swings, depression, or difficulty concentrating. A few other things you might experience could show up as isolation, appetite changes, giving into your vices much more readily, mind fog aka brain farts, or increased need for coping mechanisms. While many of these things can also indicate you might need to check in with your local care physician, they are all also common indicators you are stressed!

While we can't cure stress, we can help lessen it by taking simple actions. Before we dive into our 8 ways to find peace with mindful self-care practices, I want to touch on some of the root causes of the issue first. Why slap a band-aid (even a really quality one) on an issue that could be avoided altogether?

Gift Giving

I think this is the biggest one. First, it's the number of people on that individual shopping list. Then it's finding a gift that each of those people will like which you may have no idea what they like/want. Then it's the sheer cost of buying gifts! Oof, I'm feeling some kind of way just thinking about it but I had to stop and remind myself that I have already started to implement a system to reduce my stress in this area and bring the focus back to what the season is really about.

Let's start with a list. I want you to grab a piece of paper, or open a notepad on your phone. Yes, right now! We are tackling this as you read it because let's be real... once you're done reading this you will probably not think to get on top of it until December 20th and then you are on your own. Cue Jeopardy music. Okay, have you got your list? If you said no as you are reading this...COME ONNN lol. We shall continue without you.

Write down every person you plan to get a gift for this year. This can be your parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, cousins, neighbors, teachers, staff or coworkers, friends, etc. Take your time. I am not going anywhere.

Now cluster those people into groups. Maybe all the friends you wrote about are in one group, or you have a split family and celebrate with both halves on different days. Whatever the case is, either color-coordinate those groups, mark them with different symbols, or write a new list if you wish.

Would any of these groups be open to doing a Secret Santa or Yankee swap instead of individual gifts? I have personally found this works really well for my family as instead of buying gifts for about 6 people at maybe $50 a pop ($300) I can spend $50 once! This is just the number that my family agreed upon as our budget but you can set the rules any way you like! Here are some ideas for themes:

  • Handmade gifts only!

  • Budget Limit $___

  • Edible Items Only!

  • A Gift of Service Coupons (oil changes, mending clothes, canning your produce)

  • Charity Volunteering as a Family

Exclusively Shop Local Businesses

Re-gifts welcome!

Experience-related (rock climbing tickets, massage appointment, canning DIY class)

I have found that not only are these themes/games a lot of fun, but they also help everyone involved to stop stressing! I can't tell you the number of years I had no idea what to get someone and they had no idea what they wanted so I just had to guess. A lot of gifts that have no meaning, purpose, or story behind them end up being returned. Do you know what happens to most returns? Trash. It's sad but it's true. If you can get a group to agree to something like this or to not do gifts and instead just enjoy each other's company and maybe do a game night or some other bonding activity then you take not only financial stress off your plate but also narrow your shopping list which in turn reduces your mental caseload.

Party Planning

For extroverted folks this might be the highlight of the season but for some of us more introverted people it can be sensory overload. I like to visit with people but I don't typically enjoy being in large groups or very loud areas. If I am, I will most likely be as far from it as possible. I'll be playing with the family cat in a corner or offering to walk your dog instead. So my tip for you here is to know your limits. If you need to see 4 different groups of people for Christmas then consider spreading it out across a couple of days with time to chill in between or be a trooper and knock it all out in one day. Also, do not feel you have to attend everything. It's okay to say no too. This can be tricky when you and a partner are going between your own families and groups of friends. Some solutions could be to alternate years visiting those people you miss this holiday for the next one, or invite both parties to your home instead of going to two different ones. If you are hosting, consider a potluck style if you are tight on time or funds. Feeding a big group can be a big commitment so don't be afraid to ask for help.

Reflecting on the year

You can't go back so if you're gonna dwell on what you could have done then recognize it, learn from it, and keep moving forward. I could write out a mile-long list of regrettable things from the past year but what good does that do? None, so why are you doing it? Focus on the things that you did right. The goals you crushed. The new relationships you made or the ones that were mended. Focus on the happy memories, new experiences, and personal growth. Even if you hit rock bottom this last year, you're still here and still kicking and all you have to do is focus on the here and now.

While I mentioned before visiting and gift getting for lots of people, I do recognize that maybe you don't have that issue. Maybe its a bit more of the opposite. If you are alone this season and feel that loneliness weighing heavily on you, then try to find a public activity you can participate in. You could volunteer at a soup kitchen and maybe meet your new best friend! You could pick up a holiday shift at work. Or you could even download an app to try and meet new friends! If you have the means and know you could provide a good life then try finding a furry (or not so furry) new friend from a local shelter or rescue.

Self Care Practices

Now that we touched on some of the big root causes and how to navigate them, let's discuss 8 ways to find peace through mindful self-care practices.

  1. Breathe! It sounds silly but there are a few breathing exercises that can quickly help you return to a functional level of calm. My favorite method is just 10 slow deep breaths while simultaneously using the butterfly technique. I learned this in therapy and it has helped me in times of high anxiety. If you'd like to try it all you need is your own two hands. You can do this sitting, standing, or lying down. Cross your left hand over your right or vice versa whichever is more comfortable and use an alternating tapping pattern on your chest or lap. This essentially tricks your nervous system into thinking that everything is okay even if a minute ago you were about to lose your marbles. Yoga or meditation may also help you find balance.

  2. Schedule downtime into your daily plan. This could be a mid-afternoon nap, or sitting in your car for an extra 15 minutes when you get home from the market. It doesn't have to meet any expectations. It can be 5 minutes or 5 hours. This is a time for you and your needs. Communicate your needs to those around you. If you are overwhelmed or anxious you might be and know that doing dishes for instance might put you over the edge then ask a roommate if they could take over dish duty for the day. If you need a dance party to shake out the funky feelings then grab your favorite tunes and groove it out! Sometimes setting a reminder on your phone to check in with yourself later in the day can also be helpful and is not at all silly.

  3. Go for a walk. If it's freezing outside or extra hot then maybe not, but if you can, try to get outside. Connecting with nature in the outdoors acts like a big reset for most people. I find it very grounding myself.

  4. Unplug. Our phones are insanely useful and wonderful but they can also drain not only their own battery but ours too. It's okay to set it to do not disturb for a bit, leave it off, or set an auto text that says "Hey, I'll get back to you in a bit I am finding some peace offline today."

  5. If you can't dance it out, try to write it out. Journaling either to rant, manifest, or plan can be helpful to help organize chaotic thoughts. If you don't know what to write at all try a word dump. A word dump is writing down any word that comes to your mind. Here's an example: pickle, cheese, car, tree, fish, cookies. Yes, this was the exact lineup of words that came into my head. Try it. It's kind of fun!

  6. Make time for social connections. Do your grocery shopping with a friend, call your mom, put up the decorations with your neighbor... whatever it is just do it. Sometimes being alone is great but sometimes it means we get way deeper in our own heads than we should. Take a break from you.

  7. There are a lot of unhealthy (delicious) foods during the holidays. I can almost taste the mountain of cookies right now. Try to find a balance between your usual diet, treats, and nutrition. When we eat lots of junk food it can affect us mentally and physically later on. I know when I eat a lot of unhealthy stuff I feel tired, sluggish, unfocused, and sick. Don't be too hard on yourself though if you find in a couple of months you went full cookie monster all season. I'll probably be right there with you.

  8. Set boundaries. This one can be a bit trickier. Start small and instead of starting off saying "no" later try letting people know your boundaries up front before plans are made or incidences occur. Example: "Hey friend, I know you are thinking about hosting a show soon. I wanted to let you know I would love to help but I am super stressed and busy and I won't have time to take that on this year. I hope you understand and can find someone else to assist!"

Typically I focus on sustainable living hacks and while this might not seem like it is realted let me tell you it is! Finding balance in your own life is so important because you can't be tackling the big world problems like the climate crisis when you're already overloaded in your day to day. I hope by reading this you were able to recognize some of your holiday triggers, and stress signs, and some ways to avoid or cope with them. Remember that the expectations that come with the holidays like how clean your home should be, how fancy your gift should be, how many gifts should be under the tree, etc. are not that important. Focus on friends, family, and you. Have fun, make memories, and practice self-care.


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