It’s hard to believe we are already in December, the end of the year marked by the stamp of fairy lights and baubles in every window. Since March, it feels as though we have fast-forwarded to this point, and there is both not enough and far too much to reflect on, making Christmas feel just a bit different.
It often feels as though the only valued self-care is pampering and therapy, with social media and news platforms hailing fancy face masks, meditative experiences like sound baths, and expensive hypnotherapy sessions. And it’s working, with the wellness industry worth a staggering £3.4 trillion – and growing by the day. With unaffordable self-claimed antidotes to depression, such as GOOP’s £60 jade eggs getting peddled to the masses, many of us in need of accessible and sturdy self-care can feel like outsiders to the enigmatic and trendy wellness club.
What they don’t tell you is that self-care has always existed. It isn’t a new experimental fad, but something basic and simple that we have been practicing our whole lives. When things get complicated, or life feels out of harmony, we can start to neglect the basics, but self-care is essential for carrying us through difficult periods. We spoke to Counselling Directory member Claire Elmes on all things ‘self-care’ over Christmas, and she reflected, ‘While Christmas can certainly be a wonderful time of year, the festive period and lead up to the New Year also come with a lot of heightened emotions, demands and extra external and internal pressure. The social and cultural pressure to be happy and jolly all the time, to spend time with family when we might have difficult and fraught relationships or be estranged from them, or be struggling with grief and loss. Covid-19 has thrown a whole different type of Christmas upon us and it gives us an opportunity to think differently and not do what we do because that is what we have always done.’
Jade eggs and sound baths aside, there are many genuine types of self-care accessible for all. The broad range means that our focus can shift depending on what meets our needs in the moment. Over Christmas, our financial, professional, social, and emotional self-care, (to name but a few) might feel disrupted.
With this in mind, I have put together a few tips for navigating the festive season if things start to feel more weary than cheery..
I know they say that money can’t buy you happiness, but it has long-been-known that financial difficulties fuel mental health issues, inviting negative cycles of worry to ruminate. With job uncertainty and furloughs, many of us have become financially short this year, while Christmas might cause even further strain. Planning is the key at times like this. Keeping track of what you’re making and what you’re spending can be made easier with budgeting apps and money podcasts. These tools will help to make sure you aren’t often struggling to stay afloat days before payday. It is also important to be open with family about your limited budget for Christmas, to take the pressure off of gift-giving.
While budgeting is a great form of financial self-care, I am aware that being unemployed, in debt or simply not making enough money can make budgeting a bit like treating the symptoms without curing the disease. But it is still possible to change our approach and mindset to money with expert consultants (therapists or banks) who can tailor advice suited to your specific situation.
Pandemic aside, it is difficult to maintain a work-life balance anyway, but working longer hours from home, worrying about job security, and an uncertain economy all add fuel to the fire that is millennial burnout. It is becoming harder to say no to extra tasks and responsibilities, with the uncomfortable feeling that the rug could be pulled from under our feet if we don’t. But this is an unsustainable way to work and will only cause us to pull the rug from beneath our own feet far sooner than anyone else. Rest and boundaries are key to career longevity, and employers that are worth the while understand that, so avoid working yourself into the ground for the sake of a couple of guilt-free days off over Christmas, and instead try to plan and prioritise in a way that means you won’t just be catching up on sleep over the break.
With the three household rule, we are likely to feel pulled in different directions this year. While Christmas is a time that we see faces we haven’t been able to all year, socialising will be limited and require that extra bit of planning this time around. We might be getting used to wintery walks and mulled wine in the garden with some while Zoom’ing across the country with others. While it will feel different this year, it is so important to maintain a connection with one another and improvise with the options available to us. You may feel more isolated this year, but try to practice and get comfortable with reaching out over the phone, through video calls or messages if you start to feel lonely, and family time’d out.
Equally, when we feel overstretched it only makes socialising feel like a task. It is okay to say no to your fourth zoom of the week, or a hungover drink outside in the cold, just like every other year: create boundaries and respect the boundaries of others. That is social self-care.
If you find yourself spending Christmas alone this year due to self-isolating or other factors, Claire suggests that you, ‘Treat it as a special treat just for you. Do what you would like when you would like. What is your favourite dinner, how do you want your day to be? Plan and prepare so things are how you would like them to be. Maybe get your favourite chocolates/ drinks and enjoy some time to yourself. Look at traditions you have that you might want to continue such as watching the queen’s speech, or doing something fun.’
When there is much opportunity for food and drink over-indulgence, one too many Christmas films, and endless games of monopoly, it is more important to practice meditative self-care like walking, journaling, cooking, reading, and general exercise. Claire states that, ‘While Christmas can be special it is just another day and we are still the same people. Be gentle with yourself; remember that there is no reason to feel any guilt or shame for dealing with difficult thoughts and feelings at this time of year.’ Meditative activities feed our emotional brain and help us to come away from Christmas without needing to ‘detox’ or ‘recover’ as is often felt, but instead feeling rejuvenated by the family time and opportunity for rest that it brings.