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  • Writer's pictureDr. Maura Ferguson

Embracing the Season of Radical Self-Care: A Guide to Nurturing Yourself During the Holidays

Whether you are celebrating Hanukkah, Christmas, or Kwanzaa, or have a few days off work, it's crucial not to overlook the importance of self-care. In 2023, this is increasingly important as people grapple with the high cost of living and the vicarious trauma of wars abroad. This time of year can be incredibly challenging for many individuals, as the business and extra expense of the holidays can lead to stress and burnout. This year, the December holidays are feeling particularly difficult for many people. This is an area in which psychotherapists can be helpful. It is a job requirement to understand the importance of deep and meaningful self-care, and you can benefit from learning more about what therapists know about prioritizing your well-being at this time of year and beyond.

Embracing Radical self-care for the holidays

So, you may ask yourself what Radical Self-Care is. I can tell you that it goes beyond having a manicure or taking a bubble bath. It involves a more profound, intentional commitment to nourishing your mind, body, and soul, often at little to no cost, so that it is within reach of more people and doesn't cause further stress by depleting your financial resources. Radical self-care is work but eschews a perfectionistic approach. During the holidays, when pressures can be overwhelming, radical self-care becomes critical for maintaining equilibrium and preserving your mental and emotional health.

Thoughts on Practicing Radical Self-Care During this Holidays season:

1.     Set Boundaries: Establishing boundaries is fundamental to radical self-care. Setting boundaries doesn’t happen automatically, but it takes reflection to identify what is just right and what is too much. Are you tired, irritated, resentful or feeling down? These can be indications that you are overwhelmed and need some downtime to think or talk through what is too much and where boundaries can be set.  Self-help books will tell you to clearly communicate your limits to friends and family, but this can be an oversimplification, assuming that you already have clarity on what you need and that those around you will cooperate when you communicate your needs. In the real world, things are not always so tidy. This could mean setting aside specific hours for relaxation or designating certain days as "me time." I can also mean prioritizing a schedule that allows you to get enough sleep or allows you not to attend every holiday event or gathering.

2.     Mindful Moments: Mindfulness has become a buzzword, a panacea in the mental health world that many people find off-putting. The practice of mindfulness has become commodified and can feel like a spiritual bypass or dismissive, as in, take two aspirin and call me in the morning. I recommend that you find some quiet moments to listen to yourself in any way that suits you best and doesn’t involve a device, an app, or expensive yoga pants. If you can’t find quiet time at home, go somewhere you can slow down and hear your thoughts. This is not a one-size-fits-all all kind of approach and can involve a process of noticing the feelings and thoughts you are having with minimal judgment. Any amount of time makes a difference.

3.     Sleep and Eat – Back to Basics: While indulging in festive treats is part of the holiday experience, don't forget to nourish your body with wholesome foods. When we are busy or overwhelmed, eating and sleeping are often the first things to go, causing a snowball effect of feeling off or overwhelmed. Consider also that food isn’t only to provide nourishment but to provide pleasure and, whenever possible, connection with others.

4.     Turn to Movement: Pleasure can be a buffer against stress and overwhelm, an assertion of our humanity, and an act of resistance. Moving helps keep things balanced and regulates your appetite, sleep and mood. Walking, Running, local rec center swims, home dance party, yoga, tai chi. Wow! Radical self-care sure takes work, but it doesn't have to be arduous!

5.     Embrace the Power of No: It's okay to decline invitations or requests that may add unnecessary stress to your plate. Saying "no" is a powerful act of self-care, allowing you to prioritize your well-being. You may feel guilty at first, but this takes practice, and you will improve over time. Saying no is what allows us to say yes to something else. I could argue that every yes is also a no and vice versa.

6.     Create Meaningful Rituals: Shift the focus from the material consumption aspects of the holidays to meaningful traditions that bring you joy. You can volunteer and get creative and playful on this one – play itself is an act of resistance and self-care that maintains our humanity when it feels threatened and pressured.

7.    Engage in Activism that Advocates for Inclusivity: Advocate for inclusivity, challenge stereotypes, and promote dialogue that fosters understanding and unity. Channel your concerns into positive action by supporting organizations and initiatives promoting understanding and combating discrimination.

8. Digital Detox: Take breaks from the constant social media and email stream. While it's essential to stay informed, media consumption can tip over into a form of hypervigilance. Setting limits on the timing and how much news you consume daily is also essential. Social media is designed to amplify the most upsetting stories and often inaccurate misinformation that repeatedly puts a person into a state of fight, flight or freeze. A digital detox can help create space for more fulfilling activities.

Like so many self-care principles, a little goes a long way. As the holiday season unfolds, make a conscious effort to practice radical self-care. Nurturing yourself is not selfish—it's an essential foundation for caring for yourself, your loved ones and your community. So, let this season be a time of radical self-love and care.



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