The Gift of Self-Care

Holiday Stress

A male Stressed

The holiday season is here. It is a time to make good memories with family and friends and to celebrate getting through to the end of one turbulent year that was 2021. Despite the premise of relaxation and fun, the holiday season can also bring about increased stress. With Christmas and the New Year just around the corner, you might be finding yourself stretched too thin juggling different demands and responsibilities. From hosting and attending social gatherings, preparing gifts, and looking after children during their school holidays. For those whose holiday plans have been deterred by COVID-19, this holiday season may bring about even more stress and anxiety.

Given greater levels of stress during the holiday season, it has become even more important to practice self-care to maintain well-being.

This article will discuss the following topics:
  • Defining self-care
  • Self-care strategies: engaging in healthy self-care strategies, boundary setting, and creating a routine
  • How to be stress-free this holiday season

What is Self-care?

There seems to be a lot of buzz around the term ‘self-care’, but what exactly does it mean? In psychology, self-care involves engaging in activities that promote better health (Myers et al., 2012). These activities may be targeted to improve a range of domains that impact well-being, including physical, emotional, psychological, and social health.

Psychologists emphasise that engaging in self-care does not mean that you are indulging yourself. Rather, it is essential to prevent and manage everyday stressors that may lead to further adverse outcomes. E.g. burnout, distress and low performance (Barnett, et al., 2006). Correspondingly, it is known that self-care is important in decreasing stress and anxiety, in boosting work performance, and building greater resilience against future stressors (Black Dog Institute, 2020).

But what exactly should we do to take better care of ourselves?

Self-care to Manage Holiday Stress

Christmas tea

Engage in Healthy Self-care Practices

  • Identify past self-care strategies and evaluate whether they are adaptive or maladaptive
    • Examples of adaptive self-care strategies include exercising, meditation, and engaging in hobbies
    • Examples of maladaptive self-care strategies include drinking, smoking, and suppressing anxiety and stress
  • Choose adaptive self-care practices for areas in need of care. These self-care strategies should also be sufficiently easy and enjoyable, as setting unrealistic goals can lead to unwanted additional stress.
  • Reach out to professionals if you are struggling to cope

Create Boundaries

  • Take breaks – schedule some breaks in between work and social responsibilities to recharge and prevent burnout
  • Identify what you feel comfortable doing and stick to it. Be open to saying ‘no’ and prioritise your own well-being
  • Communicate boundaries using ‘I-statements’. Starting sentences with ‘I’ helps communicate in a firm and assertive way
    • For instance, “I feel uncomfortable when I visit home because of our unhealthy family dynamics. I need some time alone this Christmas.”
    • Or “I feel too stressed and overworked to prepare meals for the Christmas party. I need someone else to help me with this.”

Maintaining a Routine

The chaos of the holiday season makes it difficult to have any kind of structure in life, which can be an added stressor to an already busy time of the year. Therefore, it is important to create and maintain a routine to minimise stress. Here are some suggestions to keep sane during the holiday season:

  • Have a morning routine – start the day with an activity that will fuel your energy (e.g., have breakfast, drink coffee, and exercise)
  • Have a night routine – engage in relaxing activities to have a good night’s rest (e.g., turn off electronics, do some stretching, and meditate)
  • Mealtimes – set aside fixed mealtimes to maintain a structure to the day

How to be Stress-Free this Holiday Season

Family Christmas Lunch

Although it can be quite stressful, the holiday season is meant to be fun. Practicing gratitude can help not only make Christmas manageable, but also enjoyable.

  • Reflect on the things you are grateful for whether big or small. You may be thankful for having a caring friend, for the beautiful weather, or for the delicious meal you just had.
  • Let others know. Share gratitude with your family and friends by sending thank you notes and conveying your thankfulness to them in person.
  • Last but not least, be thankful for yourself. Show gratitude for your strength in surviving and thriving such a crazy year that was 2021!


Barnett, J. E., Johnston, L. C., & Hillard, D. (2006). Psychotherapist wellness as an ethical imperative. In L. VandeCreek & J. B. Allen (Eds.), Innovations in clinical practice: Focus on health and wellness (pp. 257–271). Sarasota, FL: Professional Resources Press.

Myers, S. B., Sweeney, A. C., Popick, V., Wesley, K., Bordfeld, A., & Fingerhut, R. (2012). Self-Care Practices and Perceived Stress Levels Among Psychology Graduate Students. Training and Education in Professional Psychology6(1), 55–66.

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