Self-Care During the Holiday Season
The winter months, with their colder temperatures and holiday seasons, bring both light and challenge to our lives. When my husband, Charlie, and I got engaged just over two years ago, we knew that the holiday season would present some unique challenges for us given that we would not only be navigating a new marriage and extended families but we would also be blending a family of five children spanning from ages nine to 20. Not for the faint of heart!
That first Christmas together, we got a lot of things right, and while things didn’t go exactly as we had hoped at times, I look back on that time as a family of seven and am thankful. Thankful for the memories we made. Thankful for the lessons we learned. And thankful for the ways we were able to grow closer to one another.
A friend recently asked me for advice on how to balance the stress of the winter holidays and find joy with her family. And I’d like to share with you the same advice that I gave her.
Whether you’re blending a family or navigating tough family stuff or simply looking to minimize the tumultuous nature of this time of year, I think we can all agree that less stress during the holidays is always a good thing. So how do we get there?
My answer to that is easily summed up in two words: expectations and boundaries.
Before any major event or happening, Charlie and I try to sit down to talk about what our expectations are going into That Very Important Thing That Is About to Happen. This can be difficult because it requires a bit of introspection and vulnerability, but telling Charlie what I hope things will be like when my family comes to town or hearing him express what matters most to him on Christmas Day is important. It helps us plan out our time together and also makes us aware of each other’s unspoken expectations. If Charlie didn’t tell me, I might not have known that opening presents together was far more important to him than sharing a big, fancy meal (which is probably what my family would have preferred). By discussing topics like this ahead of time, we headed off a decent amount of conflict before the holidays even ramped up.
Have you ever ended the holiday season feeling far more drained and exhausted than you did going in? Yep, me too.
Like setting expectations, establishing boundaries requires a bit of forethought and planning. And thoughtful, gracious communication. But doing so can make an incredible difference in how holiday events play out.
When I examine the roots of those draining experiences, one common theme I find in them all is that I gave far more of myself – emotionally and physically – than I intended to give. And that is a symptom of having weak boundaries with the people in my life.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my family and Charlie’s family tremendously. But that does not mean that I have an unlimited emotional capacity to pour out when the winter season rolls around. Learning how to say, “I appreciate the invitation so much, but we are busy that evening” is something I’m working diligently to develop in my life. Even if “busy that evening” means we are going to pop homestyle popcorn and watch Malcolm in the Middle reruns until bedtime. Carving out times for rest is one of the most important things we can do during this season because that rest enables us to be our truest, most beautiful, loving selves to the people who mean the most to us. Give yourself license to decline invitations so that when you do say yes to events, you can be all there.
This holiday season, I hope you’ll look for ways to communicate your expectations and set healthy boundaries with those most precious to you. In doing so, you are not only investing in your own self-care, but you are also modeling for others what it looks like to live a mindful, intentional life. And that’s the kind of gift that keeps on giving.
From my sweet family to yours this holiday season, I’m sending love and joy for the year to come.