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Holiday 'Self-Care' Advice — With a 2020 Spin

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*While I talk about Christmas in this post, I hope that it may speak to people who celebrate other holidays or none at all.

I’m going to be real. I was the kid who got the Barbie car. And the Cabbage Patch doll. And the puppy. My parents went all out to make the holidays special. One time my dad filmed himself, dressed in a Santa costume walking around the Christmas tree. This was probably around 1990, so he wasn’t using an iPhone — he had the real deal camcorder that probably rested on my mom’s shoulder as she squinted through one eye to film “Santa.” That is dedication. Other highlights of the holidays include my extended family coming over. My cousins and I would play Nintendo, make forts and would eat whatever large bird that my dad would wake me up at 3 a.m. to make.

So, you are probably saying, the holidays sound pretty sweet for you, Rose; why are you a hybrid of the Grinch and Ebenezer Scrooge? I don’t know, but I am not the only one out there who is not a fan of the whole holiday season. For a variety of reasons, the holidays can be a bummer: death of family members around this time, traumatic memories of shitty people in our lives or the fact you look outside and think that it’s nighty night time, but it’s only 4:30 p.m. and “Nightly News with Lester Holt” hasn’t even started. And now this year, we have the added aggravation of having to deal with this season largely on our own because we are in the middle (please, please, please be the middle) of a pandemic and some people got mad that they had to perform basic hygiene and practice common decency on a regular basis. So, whaddaya gonna do?

I hope I am not the first to tell you this, but you don’t have to get into the “holiday spirit” if you don’t want to. It’s cool if you are into it, too, you can still keep reading. I’m just trying to say — things are rough on top of things that were already rough, so do whatever sizzles your bacon. At no point should we expect ourselves to react like this is a “normal” situation. And everyone is winging it at this point.

In attempts to change my own mood I have read endless self-help books and in my professional life I have done a shit ton of research on “evidenced based” coping skills for my clients. Instagrammers and bloggers have some decent ideas about self-care, but they seem to assume that we all have endless amounts of money and time. So which way is best? Lol, idk. Let’s look at a couple together and customize:

Start a journal: This is a great idea if it is something you are into. There is a book called “The Artist’s Way” which is intended to help a person tap into their creativity. One of the suggestions is to complete three pages of writing per day. The writing does not have to be coherent at all; I have literally written, “I don’t know what else to write” for two and a half of the three pages. I believe that it is intended to get the neurons firing properly again, to make way for more important things a person has to do. So, you get things out of your head and on to paper and, hopefully, leave them there for the day. Others find it helpful to write a list of things they are grateful for and reflect on it.

What happens if you are still stuck after doing this exercise? Let’s zero in a bit further. Get a piece of paper and write down a list of reasons, situation, or ho, ho, hoes that are pissing you off. Now ball it up and throw it out or tear is up with malice. Or go outside and light it on fire. Be discrete and safe about it and don’t let the busybody, unofficial neighborhood watch see you.

Go outside: I am in Chicago, so it’s about to be cold af. I’m forever salty. Anyways, there is reason why these self-care tips say, “go outside,” but they often don’t tell us the science behind it. Extreme temperature changes have a physiological effect on us. Cold temperatures can trigger what is called the mammalian diving reflex which causes “body chemistry to change — heart rate drops down immediately and the parasympathetic nervous system is activated to prompt a relaxation response” (Manhattan Psychology Group, 2017).  It’s almost like re-booting our system. It is part of a therapy called dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) which can be used to assist individuals with (and without) mental illness cope with difficult or overwhelming emotions and feelings. So, in February when the windchill is -20 degrees, I will abruptly leave my office for a “smoke break,” but it will most likely be a “my-co-worker-is-wearing-her-mask-under-her-nose- again-and-I-might-lose-it-if-I-don’t-jumpstart-my-mammalian-diving-reflex-soon” break. So, go ahead and take advantage of the upcoming cold ass weather and have fun with it. Start a back-alley baby pool Polar Plunge challenge on TikTok. Go viral. Give me a shout out.

Eat healthy: Yes, definitely nourish your body. It is now more important than ever to get the proper nutrients to assist in fighting off COVID-19, as well as colds or the flu. But if you need a corn dog, tater tots and chocolate milk dinner, try not to get discouraged by it. And by the way, Taco Tuesday is Taco Tuesday whether we are in a pandemic or not — don’t leave me hanging here, people. Personally, I am waiting to see if I make it through the third wave of COVID-19 before I start worrying about meeting my daily recommended green vegetable intake, so I take a multi-vitamin. Also, some people have emotional support dogs, I have emotional support spaghetti night from my favorite restaurant. Another thing that should be considered is caffeine intake. On a regular basis, I have to ask myself, “Am I really super nervous or is this the three, very strong cups of coffee my mother makes?” And we all know that you’re just not you when you’re hangry, so get a Snickers or whatever.

Listen to music: They always tell us to get into the “spirit” of the holidays. But no one has ever really defined that for me. I think, because it’s allegedly the most wonderful time of the year, we can pick what that “spirit” really means to each of us on an individual basis. Music can have a powerful influence on a person and, I believe it can affect a person’s mood. So, utilize music to your advantage and get in whatever “spirit” you feel like. Maybe you are in a “Knuck If You Buck” spirit (amirite essential workers?). Maybe you are in an “Oops! I Did it Again” spirit. Maybe you are in a “Don’t Stop Believin'” spirit. Maybe you are in an “It’s Raining Men” spirit. Maybe you are in an “Eye of the Tiger” spirit. Or maybe you are into a compilation album with all of these songs because you are a multifaceted, fabulous living human being. So, turn that compilation album all the way up while driving your 2016 white Toyota Corolla home to the suburbs after leaving your 9 a.m – 5 p.m. job that doesn’t pay you enough and regularly makes you question your career choices and your critical thinking skills, in general.

Try to find some balance: How are we supposed to balance our mental health in an incredibly unbalanced world? A little bit at a time. Try not to go to any extremes or absolutes right now. It is not the time to try something extra that could potentially be taxing on your mind and soul. That in no ways means to not try new things, but be easy. We are coming up on New Year’s resolution time where people will try to give something up or try something new. Do not feel like you have to participate in that this year (or any other year). The year 2020 has in no way been a normal year. We have had to adapt to things we should not have to adapt to. Do not dismiss your sad/mad/glad thoughts and emotions and reach out to someone who can provide you with some comfort, if needed. And, as always, there is no shame in seeking out professional help.

So, yeah. That is the list of unconventional, but still very legal “holiday spirit” inducing self-care tips. And you will find your own way of doing things, too. My point is to be kind to yourself because the world out there is being straight up disrespectful right now. It perfectly fine to not feel very thrilled about this holiday season and you do not have to explain yourself to anyone. If someone tries to lecture you about being a holiday buzzkill, you can use one of my favorite lines, “Thanks, but I am not looking for any feedback, at this time.” And remember, unlike 2020, the holiday season will not last forever.

Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash

Originally published: December 15, 2020
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