Maternal Mental Health Research Collaborative
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Self-Care Practices You Must Try to Bust Holiday Stress

Self-care has become a buzzword in 2020 and for good reason… we’re all exhausted.

Self-care… these words can seem hollow to an already tired mom with little space on her to-do list left for anything other than making it through the day. Too many of us have put ourselves at the bottom of the list, and this time of year it’s only amplified.

Of course, COVID-19 has changed everything in 2020, and the holiday season will be no different. It goes without saying that a lot of us will miss some of the traditions that bring us meaning this time of year. But it does give us an opportunity to try something new.

For me it’s the shopping, the baking, the decorating and planning that make this season what it is. It was a Pinterest mom’s (yes, that’s me) dream come true.

But COVID changed all that. While I’m excited to plan and decorate, the true joy and meaning of the season rests in the time I’m able to spend with my husband and son, and keep exposure to COVID at a minimum.

Self-Care is Essential

None of us know whether we’ll be able to celebrate the season with extended family, or those outside our bubble. This thought leaves me disheartened and sad – but at the same time determined to make new memories and traditions.

But here’s the thing… I’m already exhausted and now have a holiday to-do list tacked on. But instead of telling myself that I “should” be doing this or that (baking cookies, perfecting my gingerbread building skills), I’m going to focus on self-care.

My body is telling me to slow it down before I hit a wall. Unlike other years, I’m actually going to listen. The goal this year is to make it to the new year in one piece and actually feel like I gave myself a break from the daily grind – and be ready to start on a fresh foot.

To make it easy, I want self-care tools that I can whip out of my back pocket and use right away. While I’m mindful that these are quick fixes to my love of trying to do “all the things”, these will give me space to breathe and carve out time to revision what I want my life to look like moving forward.

Self-care is essential now and well into the new year.

Try Meditation and Deep Breathing

Now is the perfect time to give meditation and deep breathing a try. There are a lot of meditation apps on the market, and my go to is Headspace (Calm is also a good one!). Apps like Peloton also have great meditation and yoga content and you can try it for free for 30 days.

If you don’t meditate – and even if you do – remember the power of deep breathing. When you need a reprieve from the holiday stress taking even five minutes to focus on your breathing can work wonders.

Try taking a deep breath, filling up your belly, while counting to five. Hold that breath for a count of five and then slowly breath out for another count of five. Repeat. You’ll feel calmer – I promise.

Eat Something Other Than Sugar

It’s so easy to eat cookies and chocolate at every meal of the day during the holidays. This practice won’t do you any favors and can make your anxiety and mood worse as your blood sugar races all over the place while your hormones struggle to keep up.

Plan to incorporate protein with any carbs that you may eat in order to maintain your energy and keep your blood sugar stable. Try to be proactive and eat before you’re hungry – or if you’re like me – before you’re hangry.

This simple act of self-care benefits you and everyone around you.

Get Outside and Go for a Walk

Exercise is one of my go-to stress busters, but this time of year it can be really hard to make regular physical activity a priority. If you have five minutes, you have enough time to walk around the block.

The fresh air will re-energize you, sunlight will help boost your mood, and moving your body will get endorphins flowing. The toughest part is often getting out the door – so throw on your shoes, bundle up if it’s cold out and move before you have time to change your mind.

If that’s still too much open the door, stick your head out, and breathe deep.

Say ‘No’ to Last Minute Invites – Or Any Invites At All

This is really good advice for any time of the year, but during the holidays it’s especially important to set your boundaries and stick to them. It can be really easy to tell your in-laws that you’d love to meet them for pizza on Christmas Eve, even though you planned to spend the evening wrapping gifts.

Make your plans, set your schedule and then politely decline when offers come your way. Figure out who’s in your COVID bubble and stick with those individuals.

It’s an act of self-care to know your limits and respect them. Don’t feel that you have to justify yourself or give any other explanation. Saying ‘no’ doesn’t make you a bad mom or a bad person – assert yourself and feel confident in your decision.

Take a Hot Bath or Shower

Depending on how much time you have, either a hot bath or shower can completely change your mood and outlook. If you’re feeling fancy, break out the bubble bath and scented soap.

Or just jump in and let the water work its magic. While you’re still in the shower or bath try giving your shoulders and neck a massage, focusing on any areas that are particularly tight.

Another great practice is to gently stretch your neck, shoulders and arms once they’re warmed up from the water. Not all of the stretches outlined here can be done in the bath or shower, but this will give you some ideas as to where you can start.

Remember that the holidays are also meant for you to enjoy – not to be worried about whether or not everyone else is having a good time.

Take time to check in with yourself each day, even if it’s only once or twice, and ask what it is that you need. Listen, honor and respect those needs and you’ll make it to the new year in one piece. There’s no time like the present to practice self-care.

Shannon Hennig is Program Director of the Maternal Mental Health Research Collaborative.