Unapologetic Self-Care for When the Holidays are Hard

Unapologetic Self-Care for When the Holidays are Hard
Helen Rose
December 22, 2018

I’m in school for social work. In my program at ETSU, there is a huge focus on self-care. It makes sense – social work is an emotionally draining field and burnout rates are astronomical. There is already a mass shortage of social workers, and society really can’t afford to lose them any more rapidly. Learning how to practice proper self-care is a large part of my and my fellow students’ social work education.

That said, I’ve noticed that there is a significant dissonance between the message “practice self-care” and the reality of “practice self-care as long as it doesn’t interfere with productivity” as well as “what we call self-care for rich people we call irresponsible for the poor.”

The thing is, though, that it is absolutely necessary to push past these underlying messages of efficiency at all costs and self-care is a luxury. When we neglect self-care, our unmet emotional needs can manifest as much larger issues in other areas of our lives.

The weekend before Thanksgiving this year, I had a massive shift in my life. For several weeks, all I could focus on was surviving the practical facets of my situation – moving, arranging childcare, finding a new job, and trying to emotionally process what had happened – on top of trying to finish the semester and maintain my sobriety.

I was vigilant about attending to my emotional health in some ways – I saw my therapist, sought pastoral care, and talked to my closest friends regularly. However, I neglected to do the small, practical things that typically keep me functioning, grounded, and sane. I did not take time to meditate. I did not spend time in nature. I did not spend time just playing or being silly with Henry.  I did not take time to do my makeup or hair or construct outfits that made me feel good. In a lot of ways, I could not do these things for logistical reasons, and that is what it is.

By 5:00 PM Thanksgiving Day, I was consumed by bitterness, ill-will, and rage. I just wanted to sleep. I didn’t want to talk to anyone, participate in any merriment, or spend another second thinking about Thanksgivings past and how vastly different this one was. A few hours into this slew of uncomfortable feelings, I realized that of course I would be having a hard time. It was the first major holiday I had ever spent away from my family, my friends were all out of town and my whole social script for Thanksgiving had been eviscerated. Realizing this took some of the sting out of my emotions and I made a mental note to do a better job of practicing self-care leading up to Christmas.

Well, surprise, I didn’t. Today, three days before Christmas, I found myself angry and sad enough to consider drinking to make myself feel better. I found myself constructing and deleting text messages to members of my support system because I just couldn’t find the right words to express how I felt, and I definitely couldn’t fit it into a text message. I was surrounded by people that I love desperately, and I was miserable.

Again, it took me several hours to realize that these emotions were stemming from the deviation from my experience and expectations for the holidays. When I did, I realized that it was time for what my friend Allison calls “supersized self-care.”

Unapologetic Self-Care for When the Holidays are Hard
Note that each of these says “unapologetically.” We do not have to explain or answer for our choices to take care of ourselves so long as no harm is coming to ourselves or another from our actions – and hurt feelings over us not doing what someone else wants us to do does not count as harm.

Surround yourself with what you need – unapologetically

This afternoon, I went to the crystal shop, which is one of my happy places. Others may want to be around books or music or nature or animals. Some may want to be surrounded by certain smells, colors, or bubbles or laughter. Whatever makes you feel better, so long as it is good for your health and safety, surround yourself with it in some way.

Consume what you need – unapologetically

My intuition is in control of my diet the next couple days. If I need an extra cup of coffee, I’ll drink it. If I want a cookie, I’ll indulge when I usually hold off. If something so simple can bring me a little bit of joy while I’m having a hard time, I’m willing to put in the extra exercise after the holidays.

This doesn’t just mean food, though. I couldn’t stand to listen to another hymn or Christmas song today, so I listened to some drumming and throat singing instead. I’ll probably watch something frivolous on TV later, too. I usually like to try and read or write in my free time, but a distraction I don’t have to think too hard about sounds really nice right now.

Set boundaries and say no when you need to – unapologetically

I’m probably going to take some sort of social media break for the next few days. Social media stresses me out on a good day, and honestly, I just want to enjoy this time with my son. This is our first Christmas together just us. I get to orchestrate his experience. I get to help him leave out cookies for Santa and I get to start the traditions that we will practice for our Christmases going forward. Being present will be a big part of that. (Not to mention that I can’t read the things that typically infuraite me if I’m not on social media to begin with.)

I’ll also be saying no to any more socialization than I’ve already planned on. We’ll be going to church on Sunday and Monday, we’ll be home Tuesday, and I’m comfortable with that being the extent of our plans. We have amazing people in our lives and we love spending time with them. I also recognize that being around other people sometimes requires emotional energy that I’m not currently willing to expend.

Let go of what should be and embrace what is – unapologetically

I couldn’t have imagined six months ago what this Christmas would look like, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. I never could have imagined five years ago that I would have a toddler this Christmas or two years ago that I would be sober this Christmas. Change is difficult, and it’s also the only constant thing we will ever get in this life.

Do little things typically associated with self-care – unapologetically

Face mask? Junk food? New cozy jammies? Retail therapy? Going to bed early? Romance novels? Bubble baths, wearing fun makeup or funky shoes? DO IT. You do not need anyone’s permission or approval, and anyone who would try and make you feel bad about trying to feel good needs a hug and a therapist.

self care

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