Self Care (for the holidays, winter doldrums, and beyond)

I’ve noticed that for many people I know, the time between October and January is a difficult time. It’s cold, it’s dark by 5 PM, and we are confused because […]

I’ve noticed that for many people I know, the time between October and January is a difficult time. It’s cold, it’s dark by 5 PM, and we are confused because people say this is the most wonderful time of the year… but why doesn’t it feel like it is?

For whatever the reason is for not feeling the greatest, you need to take care of you. Here are some great ideas for self care.

  1. Are your basic needs being met?
    This seems overly simple, but sometimes when I’m feeling overwhelmed, I realize my mouth is parched or that I’ve been yawning more than normal. Let’s look past emotions for a moment and think about our basic needs.
  • Are you hydrated? Drink a glass of water.
  • Are you hungry? Have a small snack.
  • Are you tired? Make sure to get to bed early tonight (or set your alarm and take a nap right now!).
  • Are you cold? Put on a sweater.
  • Do you need to shower or brush your teeth? Do that now.

I love this little pocket guide to taking care of yourself. Print a copy of this and place it somewhere easily to be seen.

2. Fresh air and/or move around
Pennsylvania in the winter is not always the best setting to take a long stroll. But can you bundle up and go outside for just five minutes? You don’t even have to mobilize yourself if you don’t want to, though that may help to keep you warm. Take a few deep breaths of cold air. Take note of the contrast of cold air on your face and in your lungs compared to the warmer air inside. I find this especially helpful during family gatherings or crazy shopping days. If going outside is not an option, consider stretching. You might be tense.

3. Identify your (healthy) support systems
Think about who you can contact when you are feeling overwhelmed. Maybe this means an email to a counselor, a text to a friend, or a call to a hotline. Sometimes we are looking for feedback, and sometimes we just need to vent. Either way, reaching out to someone can really help us feel connected.

4. Put down the phone (or tablet or remote control)
Technology is great because it has given us the perfect distraction. However, sometimes that distraction pulls us too much from reality. Read a book, doodle a picture, color in a coloring book, play a board game, take a walk, wash some dishes. Get in touch with yourself and/or with a healthy person.

5. Pick up the phone (or tablet)
Okay, we are going to go to the opposite direction. Technology is great because it has given us the perfect distraction! Over the years, repetitive video games have become some of the most played games. From Pac-Man to Candy Crush, these games have different goals but feature catchy sounds, rhythmic motions, and are easy to learn. There is something about patterns and repetition that is soothing to us. It comforts us to know what to expect when we live in a chaotic world. In fact, there has been a small study that has shown that people who play Tetris after a traumatic incident can lower their likelihood of intrusive memories. Just make sure to limit screen time—it’s all about balance!

6. Treat. Yo. Self.
What are some things you can do to treat yourself? It doesn’t have to be an expensive spa day or even a tangible object. Can you schedule yourself for just 15 minutes of listening to loud music in your car and sing along? If you plan it, you’ll have the reward plus something to look forward to!

7. Allow yourself to feel how you feel
The holidays are not always the happy times for everyone. For some people, it’s a reminder of traumatic times. For others, they are reminded of what they don’t have. Some people don’t celebrate, and they may feel overwhelmed by feeling like they need to participate. You are allowed to feel sad or angry if the season is not what you imagine.

8. New traditions
This is a great way to reclaim something as your own. Maybe the holidays weren’t a great time for you, and that’s okay. You can choose to celebrate or not celebrate. There are tons of internet calendars that have some fun holidays and celebrations. Did you know that December 4 is National Cookie Day? Maybe you can try a new cookie recipe, or make your favorite traditional recipe. Don’t like to bake? You don’t have to cook–make something! Creation is the opposite of destruction.

9. Grounding techniques
This is something my clients and I talk about a lot. When you are feeling incredibly overwhelmed with dysfunction, sometimes your goal is to just get through the day (or hour or moment). This is one of my favorite grounding technique worksheets because there are so many examples of things to try. One of them is bound to work for you!

10. Sensory self-care
Make a sensory self-care kit for yourself. Get a bag and include one thing you can:

  • Taste–a mint or piece of candy
  • Smell–a small piece of paper towel with a drop of an essential oil–you may want to bag this separately, as well.
  • Touch–something that soothes you when you touch it. Think of something with a texture that appeals to you. It might be a small piece of fuzzy fabric or a smooth piece of plastic.
  • See–A photograph you like, a postcard, a small picture that is intricate.
  • Hear–a crinkly piece of paper, a small mechanical toy that makes noise, or even a Youtube link to a song you like.

Just like those grounding techniques, these things can help you bring you back to the present and to reality. The great thing about this self-care kit is that it is yours.

11. Organize and Clean
This doesn’t sound like fun, but you know what’s satisfying? Seeing a clean sink without dishes. Don’t tell yourself that you’re going to clean the whole house. Prioritize what you feel is important, and do it. Take a before and after picture, and feel proud about your accomplishment.

12. Lower Your Expectations!
Pennsylvania winters are not the ones you see on Hallmark movies, with crisp white snowfall and fashionable winter wear. Skies are grey, it’s cold, slush and ice is ugly on the road, and we are bundled with seven layers of clothing. Your life experience is not going to be perfect, either. You have the ability to set boundaries and lower your expectations of what the day will be like. I know I personally set up expectations for myself that I will wrap presents in pretty paper and matching ribbons and bows. No. No, I won’t, and that’s okay. But what I can do is realize that the world will not end if I give someone a present in a grocery bag.

Taking care of yourself is not only something you deserve, but is an action rather than a reaction. Actions are empowering because we are taking an active role in taking care of ourselves rather than a passive role and allowing ourselves to feel stuck. Try different things on this list and see what works for you. Some techniques may be effective, some may not, and some may work depending on the circumstance. Pass some of these tips along to loved ones. And remember–No matter how and when you feel like you’re not yourself, feelings change. I know it seems like we’ve been stuck doing the same routine for quite some time, and depending on the person, that can either be really comforting or really stifling. No matter how you feel, though, it’s important to take care of yourself.

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