If you have a lot more than decking the halls with boughs of holly on your to-do list this holiday season, then chances are you’re starting to feel overwhelmed. The end of the year is a joyous time, but it can also be a very hectic time. Finishing up big projects at work, getting your finances in order, baking, shopping, traveling — will it every stop? It’s good to be busy, but there is a fine line between busy and overwhelmed. Self-care is an important part of staying on the right side of that line. We should all prioritize self-care, but your self-care may not look like what other people are posting on Instagram.
Don’t let self-care become a burden
There was a point in early 2019 where I didn’t stop working. I had worked hard at the end of 2018 to set myself up for success in the new year, and my efforts paid off. An increased workload was a blessing, especially with a wedding looming, but combine 60-hour work weeks with trying to plan said wedding and for the first time in my life, I felt tired all the time. Even though I always got eight hours of sleep, I woke up tired, went to meetings tired, and went to bed tired. Despite this exhaustion, I found myself at the gym late one night. At 9pm — after starting my work day at 6am — there I was on a StairMaster, listening to a French vocabulary podcast. Surely I couldn’t allow work to get in the way of my fitness and self-improvement goals. Both of these activities would normally be a form of self-care for me, but at a certain point I realized I was adding more to my plate than I needed to.
Sometimes, the best form of self-care is being compassionate towards yourself and not doing anything at all. I realized this when my body literally couldn’t take it anymore. One day I woke up more sick than I’d ever been in my life. Fever, body aches, the works. I had no choice but to take a few days off of everything. While my body rested, my mind did too, and I realized I was overdoing it in all areas of my life. Even the areas I thought fell under the umbrella of self-care. From that point on, I scaled back completely. I chose to elope instead of planning a big wedding. I cut back on work. I spent more time at home and less time at the gym. Most importantly, I told my husband how I was feeling. He was more than ready to help and took over almost all of our household chores while I wrapped up some big projects. Being able to talk about how I was feeling with someone who wanted to support me mattered so much more than going to get my nails done.
Skip the beauty treatments if you wish
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good beauty product. A decent part of my living comes courtesy of writing about my favorite products, but I am saddened to see that self-care is often associated with beauty. Facials, manicures, and other beauty treatments seem to be the main form of self-care that people talk about. It’s totally fine if you find your zen in a salon chair, but in many ways, it can feel like popular forms of self-care promote trying to make yourself look better. When I’m feeling run-down, the last thing I want to do is try to scrape a hardened mud mask out of my eyebrows or stop a sheet mask from dripping on my clothes — let alone make an appointment at a salon. I’m happy if I can just close my eyes for a minute and try to clear my mind. Pro tip: if you get tension headaches like I do, I like keeping a facial massaging tool (this is the one I use) in my freezer to help with inflammation. A few minutes breaking up that tension may not make me look more polished, but I certainly feel more pulled together mentally.
What makes you feel more pulled together? It may be getting your car serviced and giving it a good clean. It could be scrubbing your house from top to bottom. Maybe you need to watch The Office for five straight hours and not think about anything but how cute Jim and Pam are. Whatever helps you clear your mind will probably be more beneficial than having clear pores.
READ: I Used Self-Care as a Cop Out for Self-Love
Self-care doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive
Self-care can often be expensive and it’s a luxury that not everyone can afford, but it doesn’t have to be. Spa days and shopping sprees may take the edge off your stress, but if they get in the way of your financial goals, they’re more self-destructive than a form of self-care. Sit down and try to block out the noise of what you’ve been taught is relaxing. Start by doing this weekly. Look at your schedule and see what the potential stressors will be and how you can counteract them. Pinpoint exactly what you need to feel healthy, happy, and balanced. If a traditional self-care activity doesn’t appeal to you, don’t force it into your schedule.
Self-care efforts can be smaller than you think. If you bring your own lunches to work, treat yourself to some healthy pre-made meals instead of meal prepping for hours each week. Head to the library for a few hours and stock up your cart with some good reads for free. Call your mom and gossip for longer than you feel you should.
Making plans is an important part of self-care that works well for me, but doesn’t cost a dime. I’m able to relax much more knowing I’m working towards a goal I’m passionate about or have a vacation on the books. Hustling right before our honeymoon felt more invigorating when I realized we could really treat ourselves while on vacation. And when I check in on my financial, career, and personal goals, I often feel much more satisfied with the work I’m doing.
Why being tired doesn’t mean you aren’t practicing self-care
There are times when self-care is exhausting, which seems to defeat the point, but if you’re doing something you love then being tired is a good thing. For some, spending ample time with family and friends may do the trick, even if that takes up all of your free time. For others it may be hitting the gym every day for an intense workout. Some may want to sign up for Italian classes at the local community college and study until the wee hours of the night. Having a packed schedule isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you’re following your passions.
READ: 11 Ways to Practice Self-Care (in 15 Mins or Less)
Decide what your self-care looks like
Ideally, you’ll find a way to define what self-care looks like for you. Try to forget about what you think self-care looks like and think about what you really need to rest and recuperate. Some of the following ideas may call to you, but they also may not, and that is totally OK. You’ll find what works for you eventually!
- Turn off your devices: A clear mind will come easier with less alerts and distractions.
- Prioritize health: At the end of the day, exercising, eating well, and going to therapy will always be a good choice.
- When in doubt, go to bed and get a little extra shut eye.
- Find a hobby that you love and can’t wait to work on.
- Plan a vacation, even if it won’t be soon. Having an exciting trip to look forward to will do wonders for your stress levels.
- Tell someone how you’re feeling: That could be your therapist or a trusted friend. Or even your boss. Communicating what you need and what is bothering you (or exciting you!) is so important.
- Celebrate the small wins: Don’t wait for the big promotion. Each month think of an accomplishment you are proud of (like making it to the gym 10 times that month) and at the very least acknowledge it.
- Pet a dog: Seriously, if you don’t have a pooch on hand find one.
- Do 10 minutes of yoga at home: No need to fuss with going to a class, just do what stretches feel right for you.
- Wash all of your bedding: You’ll be glad you did at bed time.
- Try a new athletic activity that will challenge you: Focusing on learning the ropes of archery or paddleboarding will help clear your mind.
- Make amends with someone.
- Do something you loved when you were young, even if it feels silly at first.
- Do a brain dump: Get out some paper and pen and write down everything that is worrying you and everything on your to-do list. Then write down everything good that happened to you today and what you’re looking forward to tomorrow. Out with the bad and in with the good.