I've heard from many clients over the years that they have an irrational fear that if they take care of themselves—no one else will. It's as though there is only so much responsibility one can take before they shut the door on connection with others. This post is a friendly reminder that we can take care of ourselves and be vulnerable to others, feel taken care of and be available for it.
This is a particularly important reminder during the holidays. It can feel as though everyone else is enjoying the holiday cheer. We can feel alone and isolated, and self-care becomes more essential than ever. Here are some tips and tricks to rely on all through the year, with some extra pointers to get you through the month of December.
Fail to Plan and You Plan to Fail: This one covers quite a bit of ground. It means that you shouldn't wait for an invite (leaving you all alone on Saturday night). You should make an effort to initiate plans in advance. Even if you can't find someone to pal around with, there are lots of fun things to do and ways that you can engage in festivities by going solo (and perhaps meeting new friends in the process).
Having a plan is also crucial for people who are clean/sober/abstinent. Planning in this regard means that you don't rely on holiday party food to meet your abstinence requirements. Eat a healthy meal before you head out for the evening. The trigger foods being passed around won't feel so tempting and you can enjoy the socializing without obsessing about what you can or can't eat. The same rule applies for beverages: Bring something that you would enjoy to the party. I'm fond of mocktails, or fizzy drinks that look nice in fancy glasses. If you feel like you are taken care of, you won't feel so left out when other guests are enjoying their holiday spritzer.
Lastly, once you have made a plan in advance, taken care of your personal needs and shown up for the party, it's always a good idea to have some back-up and an exit plan. By back-up, I mean that you can let someone know that you are heading to an anxiety-provoking event. Even if your friend can't be with you in person, they can still be your wingman. Ask them to send you texts of encouragement, or let them know that you might be calling them from the bathroom for a little pep talk. We have to lean on one another in times like these! By exit plan, I mean that carpooling with friends can feel like you are held hostage. If you plan your own transportation, it can take the pressure off of attending in the first place, and it's nice to know that you can head out whenever you feel ready.
Pamper Yourself: All of the family and festivities can bring up a lot of emotion and it's good to give yourself some extra love this time of year. If you can afford a spa day, I say go for it! And if that isn't in the budget, there are many ways that you can pamper yourself at home. Give yourself a mani/pedi, cut up some fresh cucumbers and place them on your tired eyes, slather your hair with mayonnaise and wrap it in cellophane, make yourself a homemade sugar scrub, light some candles and take a hot bubble bath, just do something that makes you feel good, and do it often.
Be of Service: This may seem like an odd choice for self-care tips, but the truth is—when you aren't focused on your own misery, you are taking care of yourself. Tis' the season for giving, and being of service is always a moral booster. For those of you who feel anxious at holiday parties, I suggest pinning yourself to the host and asking how you can be helpful. Look around to see what needs to be done or see who else looks a little anxious and introduce yourself. Orienting yourself towards others gets you out of your own head, gives you something to do, and before you know it—you might actually be having a good time!
Showing up for others also includes gift giving. I'm not advocating for the commercialism of it all, but I think that thoughtful homemade gifts can be a joy for the giver and the receiver. Baking cookies for your loved ones or making simple ornaments for your friends gives you something fun to do, and something lovely to give. When was the last time you got lost in some cookie dough and frosting, or spent a couple of hours in the craft store?
The Usual Suspects: Don't forget about all of the self-care you do on a regular basis during the busy holiday season. In fact, you might make a point of doubling your efforts in this regard. Keep up with your exercise, meditation, journaling, 12-Step meetings, making your bed and doing the dishes... all of the maintenance that makes us feel good about ourselves.
I wish you all a very happy holiday season, armed with the knowledge that there is much you can do to make it the best one yet.
Ingrid Mathieu, Ph.D. is a psychotherapist and author of Recovering Spirituality: Achieving Emotional Sobriety in Your Spiritual Practice.
Copyright by Ingrid Mathieu, Ph.D., 2011. All rights reserved. Any excerpts reproduced from this article should include links to the original on Psychology Today.