Mental Health
A Therapist's Guide to Holiday Self-Care

A Therapist's Guide to Holiday Self-Care

5 min read


Lindsay Yeager, LMSW

How to Take Care of Yourself While You're Immersed in Time With Others

During the holidays self-care can fall to the back burner, when in reality it’s the time we need it the most. As a licensed therapist and seasoned holiday celebrator myself, I’m going to help you prepare yourself for time with others, take care of yourself while you’re with them, and guide you on how to wind down afterward. 

While I’ll share tips to care for yourself outside of therapy, I encourage you to explore working with a therapist during this time. I understand it might be challenging to schedule sessions amidst gatherings, but therapy can be an essential part of preparing for the holidays and integrating back into life afterward.

Understanding Your Holiday Experience

Holidays can look different for each of us. It could be a time of joy, seeing your loved ones, or perhaps you’re dreading interactions with family members with whom you have conflicts or strained relationships. You might be looking forward to seeing your sister, who brings up warm childhood memories of decorating the tree or lighting the menorah, while simultaneously wishing you could be doing anything else except sitting in the same room as your father, who never ceases to violate your boundaries every single time. 

All emotions that you’re feeling around the holidays are totally valid. Consider this as your permission slip to release the expectations that this time should be exclusively filled with joy, love, and laughter. Whatever the holidays feel like for you, spending time with others can be draining, making it crucial to find ways to care for yourself and create space to decompress. 

The Three Phases of Holiday Self-Care

These practices are the key to navigating the holidays without succumbing to social exhaustion and burnout. I like to break down holiday self-care into three parts.

The Pre-Work

The pre-work is the phase of self-care where you’re conserving your energy and preparing yourself physically and emotionally for time with others. 

Clear Your Schedule

A few days before you see family and friends for the holidays (and especially the morning of), I invite you to clear your schedule of any significant social gatherings or events that don’t absolutely need to happen, with the exception of spending really nourishing time with a close friend. Better yet, just don’t schedule any exhausting and unnecessary social events leading up to the holiday season so that you don’t even need to cancel anything.

With your clearer social schedule, you might consider scheduling a therapy session so that you can share your feelings with a therapist. While holidays and significant events can be joyful for some of us, there can also be feelings of grief, anger, sadness, and loneliness mixed in. A therapist can support you through navigating whatever you’re feeling. All the emotions you’re feeling are valid, and I invite you to allow them to flow through you without judgment.  If you’re interested in starting therapy with me, learn more about my approach and schedule a complimentary call here

Grounding Rituals

On the morning of any holiday or significant gathering (or the night before if you’re leaving early), take a moment to get grounded and do something just for you, whether that’s taking a walk outside, exploring a 10-minute meditation, or working out.

You may also want to explore a grounding roots visualization practice to protect your energy:

  • Find a comfortable seat on a soft surface, or better yet on the ground outside, and close your eyes or keep them softly open.
  • Notice where your body meets the surface or the earth and notice your breath, maybe exploring lengthening your inhales and exhales.
  • When you’re ready, imagine roots growing out from where your body meets the surface beneath you.
  • Imagine the roots growing deeper and deeper, broader and wider, providing you with stability and a sense of groundedness.
  • Notice how you feel in your body with your roots, physically and emotionally.
  • These roots are always there and if you need them later while you’re with others, you can take a breath and bring your awareness back to them.
  • Whenever you’re ready, slowly begin to open your eyes if they were closed and find something grounding in the space or outside to focus your attention for a moment as you get ready to move forward in your day. 
  • If you work with me as your therapist, I can guide you through this process and equip you to do it on your own.

Nutritional Preparation

If you have food allergies, or sensitivities, or anticipate eating unfamiliar foods, make sure to eat a blood sugar-balancing meal before you go. Blood sugar-balancing meals have a protein, a carb, and a fat. This will help your body feel nourished and energized as you step into social spaces.

While You’re With Others

This phase focuses on how to set boundaries in a way that others may not even notice so that you can care for yourself while you’re physically at holiday gatherings. 

Carve Out Alone Time

Carving out alone time for yourself to decompress is so important while you’re with others. You may be thinking, “But how do I get time to myself when I’m with 10 other family members?” Hear me out though, because we’re going for 2 to 10-minute spurts of time here!

Don’t underestimate the value of bathroom breaks, even when you don’t actually need to use the bathroom. The bathroom is a space where you can have a moment alone to decompress, especially if family dynamics become stressful and you need a break or a brief escape.

Here are a few grounding practices that you can do in the bathroom:

  • Put a hand on your chest and a hand on your abdomen and take a few breaths, feeling your chest and abdomen move toward your hands on an inhale, and away from your hands on an exhale.
  • Notice your feet on the floor or in your shoes. You may explore rocking forward toward your toes and backward toward your heels to feel how different parts of your feet meet the surface beneath you.
  • “Shake it off.” Shake out your arms and legs, imagining any interactions or energy not serving you flowing out through the tips of your limbs.

Evening and Morning Routines

The bathroom is a magical place for self-care during holiday gatherings, but if you’re sleeping over somewhere, we also need to think about how you’re winding down at the end of the night and starting your morning the next day.

I invite you to tell everyone you’re going to bed earlier than you actually want to go to bed but still go to the room you’re sleeping in. Before you sleep, take a moment to do something for yourself, whether reading, meditating, or stretching. You can find stretching videos on YouTube, and there are plenty of free meditations on podcasts that you can access through Apple or Spotify.

When you wake up in the morning, don’t let everyone know you’ve woken up until you’ve taken a moment for yourself. Before you join folks for breakfast, do something in the morning like you did in the evening before bed. I understand that if you have kids, this can be hard, but all you can do is your best!

The Post-Work

After all the social gatherings are finished and the holiday season is winding down, it’s time to dive into the post-work. If you have multiple gatherings in a row and have space in between them, you can integrate the post-work throughout, otherwise, you can start the post-work after the last gathering.

Reflect and Process

I encourage you to schedule a session with your therapist. A therapist like myself can help you process any feelings or complicated family dynamics during the holidays so you can integrate back into your day-to-day life. 

Rest and Recovery

Make sure you also carve out time for rest after the holiday season is over. Avoid scheduling any unnecessary social plans for at least 2-3 days afterward. Consider giving yourself a mini staycation if you can! I also recommend going to bed early and getting as much sleep as you can for a quicker recovery.

Energetic Clearing

If this resonates, you might also explore some energetic clearing work, where you can use your hands to physically brush any negative energy and interactions off your body:

  • Stand up and feel your feet on the ground.
  • Bring to mind any interactions, emotions, or negativity that you absorbed from others during the holidays that you no longer want to carry. 
  • Use your hands and fingertips to brush off that negativity from the crown of your head down your face and neck, imagining any negative energy flowing down and out your body and into the earth.
  • Now brush your arms from your shoulders to your fingertips.
  • Brush from the top of your chest down your abdomen.
  • Brush from your mid-back down to your hips.
  • Keep going and always brush the energy in a downward direction toward the earth so that the earth can absorb it for you.
  • Brush around your hips and legs all the way down to your feet, making sure you get the front and back of your legs and the soles of your feet. 
  • Now scan through your body and notice if there are any areas that you’re still feeling tension or discomfort and focus for a moment just on those areas, imagining that you are brushing the energy off your body and down to the earth. 
  • When you feel complete, take a moment to feel your feet on the ground again and scan through your body to see how you’re feeling. Repeat it as many times as you’d like.
  • I can guide you through this process so that you know how to do it on your own.

Empower Your Wellness Journey

The holidays can come with a full spectrum of emotions, ranging from joy to sadness, from excitement to grief, and from love to loneliness. Whatever you’re feeling, you’re not alone, and it’s all totally valid.

Maybe you’re currently working with a therapist, but if you’re without one and in search of support, I am a licensed therapist employing a holistic approach encompassing mind, body, and spirit. I specialize in aiding individuals through various challenges, including trauma, life transitions, anxiety, self-esteem, and more. Additionally, I have a unique niche in menstrual wellness and fertility.

If you’re curious to see whether we could work well together, feel free to learn more about my approach and schedule a complimentary consultation here

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About the author

Lindsay is a New York therapist, offering a mind, body, and spirit approach to navigating trauma, anxiety, life transitions, and more. She also has a unique niche in fertility and menstrual health.

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