The holidays can feel overwhelming and stressful. The antidote? Add self compassion to your holiday wishlist this year. In this post, we’ll talk about three ways to practice self compassion around the holidays.
The holidays can be a joyful, magical time filled with special traditions and they can be a time of stress and burnout. With all the cultural expectations of holiday cards, gift giving, shopping, traveling, decorating, and parties, it can start to feel overwhelming.
And when you’re overwhelmed and stressed out, your relationship with food can take a toll. Maybe you’re not feeling hungry because your stomach is in knots or maybe you’re eating past comfortable fullness each night because it provides some temporary relief.
One of the most helpful tools we have (IMO) during seasons of life that feel chaotic is the practice of self-compassion. If you’re not familiar with self-compassion, check out Dr. Kristin Neff’s work and book and my blog post How to practice self compassion.
You can practice self compassion at any time of the year (and I highly encourage you make this a lifelong practice!) but here are three specific ways you can practice self-compassion around the holidays:
1. Talk to yourself like you would to a dear friend.
Didn’t have time to wrap all the gifts? Late sending out holiday cards (or maybe you *gasp* don’t send them at all!)? Unable to make every holiday party this year? Maybe you’d typically beat yourself up over it and criticize yourself. Maybe you have a mean girl voice that says “you’re pathetic – how could you not get your act together to make that happen?”
Practicing self-compassion involves treating yourself with kindness. One tangible way to do this is to speak to yourself like you would a best friend. If your best friend came to you and said I feel awful, I didn’t have time this year to send out holiday cards, would you tell her she’s pathetic? Of course not! You’d probably tell her that it’s fine – that it’s a silly expectation and they all end up in the garbage anyway.
We are our toughest critics. If you catch yourself judging yourself during the holidays for something you didn’t do or something you ate, can you talk to yourself in a kind and loving way, like you would a dear friend?
2. Regularly check-in with yourself.
Another tenet of self-compassion is mindfulness – paying attention to the present moment, on purpose, without judgment or criticism (paraphrased from Jon Kabat Zinn).
When you allow yourself the time and space to check-in, you may notice different thoughts or feelings you’re having and be able to observe them. Otherwise, you either brush them under the rug (until they overflow) or you over identify with them and get swept away by them.
While there’s nothing wrong with emotionally eating from time to time, if you find that every night during the holiday season you’re turning to food to help soothe, you may benefit from practicing more mindfulness.
Perhaps you allow yourself the gift of a pause and before you grab the box of cookies, ask yourself what is it that I’m feeling right now? Can I sit with this feeling and just be with it for a minute or a few minutes? What is it that I need right now? Maybe the answer is still cookies and that’s okay. But you might notice a different answer like slowing down, space, alone time, a hug, connection, love.
Mindfulness might allow you the space to choose a different coping tool in your toolbox. The more you can check-in with yourself, notice what’s coming up, and tend to your needs, the better off you’ll be to manage the busyness of the holidays.
3. Remind yourself that most people struggle to some extent during the holidays.
When you’re feeling down because your grandmother commented on your weight (again!) or you’re stressed because you ate too much pecan pie or you’re feeling guilty because you’re not taking care of yourself very well, remind yourself that you are not alone.
Say it with me, I. Am. Not. Alone.
The third tenet of self compassion is common humanity, reminding yourself that you are not alone in your struggles. That as humans we are all flawed and imperfect and we all experience suffering. It’s the human experience.
And the human experience around the holidays tends to be stress!
If you find yourself wondering why you struggle to enjoy this time of year while it seems everyone else is having fun and finding joy, remind yourself that others are struggling to set and uphold boundaries with their families around food and weight talk, others are feeling guilty about their food choices, others are not finding time for self care. Other people are feeling anxious, or sad, or frustrated.
It’s not all joy, all the time, this time of year. It’s normal to experience a wide range of emotions. Remind yourself of that when you start to feel lonely or like you’re the only one having this very human experience.
This time of year is A LOT. Be gentle with yourself. Lots of grace. Lots of self-compassion. Remember, it’s a practice, not a destination. Be careful not to add self-compassion to your list of things you’re “failing at.”
Which area do you want to work more on this month? How do you practice self-compassion this time of year? Tell me in the comments below!
For more holiday and intuitive eating tips, check out my posts below!
3 Ways to Navigate Diet Talk Around the Holidays
5 Tips for Staying Well Nourished This Holiday Season
3 Tips for Setting Health Goals for the New Year that Are Actually Sustainable
6 Ways to Find More Enjoyment in Eating
3 Ways to Navigate When Clothes Don’t Fit You (without another diet!)