6 Ways to Take Care of Yourself This Christmas, With Drawings
Top therapist-recommended and personally-attempted tips from staff writer and artist Vanessa Crofskey on getting through the season.
For some, public holidays like Christmas can be a moment of coming together with family, celebrations of birth and joy. For others, it can mean a toxic petri dish of family arguments, stress, strife and grief. It can mean that although you love most of ‘em, and want to be there, you’re unsure whether you’re going to be able to manage a tense family lunch without digging a knife into your leg or someone else’s. If your experience borders on the latter, and you find yourself sacrificing your own mental peace to keep the overall piece, here are six tips – informed by personal experience – to help guide you through this holiday season.
CHARM YOUR WAY THROUGH
It might seem silly, but having physical protective amulets on and around you can help to feel safe in environments that might not feel safe all of the time. If you’re venturing outside of your house to join family or friends on Christmas, in an unfamiliar or all-too-familiar environment, bringing a couple objects that spark safety for you can be the difference between a mild stress freak-out and a breakdown.
This one comes therapist-recommended and personally-attempted, me thumbing my grandma’s jade all through the day. Your list could include: jewellery, your own toiletries, lavender oil or other familiar scents, a diary, a small pillow. Whatever it is for you, a couple of objects you can place in a room and that make you feel connected to good people means you’re not necessarily coming into an environment alone. You’re differentiating yourself now with any past selves that are hanging around, and crafting a space of comfort and care wherever you go.
PRIORITISE RESET TIME
There can be a lot of people milling around at Christmas, and an implicit pressure to be staying merry and present throughout the day. Even if there aren’t that many people near you, the presence or absence of just one particular person can feel more like 100. If you anticipate that being socially available is just going to be A LOT, and that you’re heading into a sensory overwhelm, think of ways you can carve out alone time for yourself.
Before you drive up to wherever you’re going, can you give yourself some time at a beach to pause and check in, get some fresh air? Can you afford to book an AirBnB instead of camping on your grandma’s couch? Or if staying with family, are you able to request a room by yourself where you can close the door and zone out in private? Are you able to go for a quick, solo walk at some point in the day? Keeping in charge of your energies throughout the festive period is responsible and responsive self-care, which makes a huge difference to how unravelled you’re feeling by 9pm. It’s self-care that’s fairly easy and hugely rewarding, if you give a little forethought to plan moments of rest and quiet.
DISENGAGE FROM WHAT YOU CAN’T TOLERATE
I know it seems counter-intuitive; given it’s our sole personal responsibility to right all wrongs of the world. However, if your family or someone else’s are talking mad shit that riles you up to no end, maybe give yourself some distance before muttering out a retort. Is what they are saying the truth, is it about you, and is it worthy of your energy? God bless family, but even the most beloved of them can be ignorant, conservative, straight up rude or racist.
Remember that you’re not going to change anybody’s mind if you’re closed off and on the defensive. Remember that there are times in the future to bring up things that were said in the past, there are people worth the effort, and ways of bringing up a conversation in gentler ways and in gentler spaces. You and your time are worth protecting. A little bit of meaningful detachment can make enduring brunch easier, or at least mean you’re not obsessively fuming in a chain-smoking binge out the back. If the conversations are really that bad with your racist aunt, that’s when your mindful time and protective charms come in handy. Disengaging is hard: It’s hard not to take what is said personally, especially if it affects you and your close ones, especially if it’s judgments about your life choices, your body and any (or no) partners you’re entertaining. Count to ten, feel your feet, acknowledge your anger and excuse yourself from the room.
PRACTICE SETTING BOUNDARIES
It really is easier said than done, but the more you practice your boundaries, the easier they are to implement. Boundaries can feel upsetting or hostile to those who are not used to accommodating your needs, those who have historically gotten away with insensitive behaviour. They might feel like you’re putting up a wall, but it’s actually a doorway, a door that you can open and close as you need. Boundaries are not about being imposing and they’re not about creating distance; they are about creating safe ways for you to remain close and in connection to others. They’re a buffer against an overwhelm.
Boundaries are notoriously difficult to enforce against family members, people who have known you as a child, or for a long time. Here are a couple sentences to practice speaking, should you feel safe enough to do so: “I would prefer if we didn’t talk about this”. “I am going to need to leave after lunch as I have plans”. “I would prefer if you asked me / my child if we want a hug before you come over” “I feel uncomfortable around [these substances or behaviours] so I am just going to remove myself from this space and will be back at this time”. “We have had a lot of big festivities and I would prefer if tonight was just a small occasion”. “I am not in communication with this person so I would ask you not to speak about me to them”.
For more information on internal and external boundaries, plus on how to set them, this podcast episode by Therapists Uncensored is very good listening!
Everybody packs up and out of the city over the holidays. It can feel unbearably hard when your usual support networks are no longer beside you. Lana Del Rey was right about #summertimesadness, it’s a vulnerable time of year. You might feel physically alone, but you don’t have to be emotionally. If you have an inkling that things are possibly not going to run smoothly – or even as a just-in-case precaution – setting up a check-in with a friend can be a lifesaver. If you can both be there for each other, even better! It can feel sensitive and ridiculous to ask for that kindness, for those who are not used to asking for it, but asking a friend to check in on you before a crisis point is much less of an ask than an emergency phone call three hours in. Humans are interdependent, we’re supposed to help regulate each other. There’s no shame in needing some support.
A safe person can bring you back to yourself, make sure that you’re taking care of your physical body, and send memes. You can vent about that racist aunt without threat of estrangement. What it also does when you open up and speak to a friend is validate an experience of discomfort during holidays as normal. It’s incredibly common, although it can be hard to accept in your personal situation after watching an overload of red-and-green ads with paid actors going on about goodwill.
PLAN IN ADVANCE
Planning in advance is fucking empowering. It’s pretty amazing when you’re able to assess your needs before a situation, safely manage through an event and are able to make things easier on yourself. If it all goes haywire, then at least you tried something different, and have more to learn for next time.
A little bit of pre-emptive care can mean you’re slightly less likely to be reaching for another drink or your phone or a hostile sentence to get through the day. It means that those common triggers around the holidays are slightly less electrifying, that you have more options for coping than before, and better ones than the good old avenues of self-medicating. Harm reduction works, there’s science behind it. Becoming a pro at being your own caretaker takes work, but you get good at it fast and can help others achieve their most enlightened self-care selves too. Christmas can be a time of joy, yes, but there are also deep triggers involved for many of us who have loved and lost people in our lives, who have uncomfortable relationships with family, food, religion or alcohol. Downloading a mindfulness podcast you can tap into, finding possibilities for gentleness before your brain splinters and shuts down for the night goes very, very far.
All artwork by Vanessa Crofskey