Why Self Care Doesn't Feel Like Self Care during the Holidays

Often, during the holidays, we worry excessively about making everyone happy. The tendency to people please can spike dramatically due to societal expectations and the pressure to successfully reconnect with loved ones. “People-pleasing can be defined as having a need or urge to ensure others are pleased, often at the expense of oneself.”  Moreover, the pressure we feel to be “merry” during this time can take a toll on us. And in a season dedicated to togetherness, taking time for yourself can feel disruptive. So, here are 3 why reasons self-care feels this way during the holidays and 3 tips on addressing this challenge. 

Brain on overdrive

The holidays offer a wealth of sensory experiences like bright lights, candles, decorations, heavy traffic, and increased social interactions. Likewise, it’s very easy to become overstimulated during this time. 

Sensory overload happens when you get more input from your five senses than your brain can sort through and process. Additionally, because the holiday season often requires us to keep track of and pay attention to more responsibilities than usual, the brain goes into overdrive. 

There’s also this heightened sense of awareness. We often feel compelled to gauge or evaluate the happiness of others around us. And when you have company over during the holidays, it’s completely normal to feel drained afterward. 

One thing you can do to recharge is set limits on how often you’re attending holiday events, having company over, or spending time with others. You can also meet with others at a restaurant or a public place so there is more of a time limit on the engagement. Placing these boundaries may feel like you’re disrupting holiday togetherness. But, in reality, you’re more likely to connect and make lasting memories with others when you are not drained. The holidays are a busy time, and it’s okay to feel tired. 

Gift giving 

As mentioned before, the holidays create situations where we evaluate the happiness of others.  For example, overvaluing your giftee’s response to the gift is also one of the reasons why gift shopping can be a very stressful experience. Plus, on any given day, research shows that  55% of Americans feel stressed, with  one-third of us “completely overwhelmed” by stress. So, when you add gift-giving to the mix of our daily responsibilities, it’s understandable how our mental health might falter. One way to mitigate this is to ask people specifically for a gift they would like or make mental notes on what they’ve mentioned before. A good gift does not have to be a surprise even though we’re constantly bombarded with images of “Christmas magic.” Asking for certain parameters so you can gift shop effectively is a great way to practice self-care, especially when gift-giving is a source of anxiety. 

Idealized images

Speaking of “Christmas magic,” we’re confronted with images on TV, social media, and advertisements that depict perfect togetherness. But, in reality, many people fear saying the wrong thing during the holidays or feel discomfort about revisiting certain family dynamics. In turn, the expectation to achieve the image of an ideal family can feel very stressful. But at the same time, when you place distance, it’s easy to feel like you’re disrupting the holidays. So, it doesn’t truly feel like self-help. 

One way you can cope with this pressure is by knowing what your triggers are so you can respond in a way that’s beneficial to you. Responding to a trigger might require briefly removing yourself from a situation, doing a grounding exercise, focusing on breathing, or finding your “safe person.” Often, it helps to be with someone who is a source of support during holiday social gatherings.

Overall, the holidays are a time to cherish the bonds you have with loved ones and to share time and space with them in a busy world. But, it’s important to do this in a way that feels healthy for you, and most of all, in a way that feels authentic.