9 Ways to Put Yourself First During the Holidays

Ahhh, the holidays. Visions of tranquil forests serenely blanketed in snow, sparkling lights all atwinkle, and the smell of fresh pine from the beautifully decorated tree in the front window. Happy families drinking hot chocolate and watching holiday classics while building dream houses out of gingerbread. Succulent roasted meats on large platters, flanked by side dishes for every palate and, of course, pie. So much pie. Exchanging gifts with loved ones and feeling that tug of appreciation deep within your heart. Love! Joy! Peace!


Of course, we all know by now that while those visions are nice, they're also terribly naive, because this is never, but never, how the holiday season actually plays out. (And if, for you, it is...let's talk, because clearly you are the Jedi Master of Holidays and I have so much to learn from you.)

For every perfect gift you pick out, there are three people for whom you have no conceivable idea what to buy.

For every joyful holiday gathering, there is chaos behind the scenes - not to mention a nausea-inducing number of lists: what to buy, what to serve, what to clean...

For every warm family moment, there is a bitter conflict waiting in the wings. (Or maybe you're a member of the Brady Bunch; that's cool, too.)

Not to mention that sinking feeling you get when a section of the lights on the tree goes out and you have to find the one tiny bulb that is singlehandedly destroying your holiday cheer.

Sound familiar?

For so many of us, it's the busiest season of the year - which means, of course, that we tend to put our own well-being and personal fulfillment dead last on the to-do list. It seems inevitable, doesn't it? Who's got time for self-care in the mist of all the holiday madness? This is no time for spa days and milk baths - we've got to get shit done!


Yes - and, no.

Putting ourselves first doesn't always have to mean indulging in complicated and time-consuming self-care rituals. Here are some ideas to prioritize your own well-being over the holiday hustle!

1. Skip the holiday party that's stressing you out.

You are under no obligation to attend every soireé whose invitation comes your way. In fact, most people I know expect that there will be people who are unable to show up to their gathering, especially around the holidays. Feel free to politely decline - even if the reason is because you just want to lie alone on your bed in the dark and get some goddamn peace and quiet for once. You don't owe your attendance to anyone.

2. If you're hosting a gathering, make it a potluck.

Ask some of your guests to bring an appetizer or dessert, and others to come armed with a bottle of wine or a six-pack of fancy soda. This will save you time, money, and stress, as all you'll have to worry about will be a main-course staple or two.

3. Decorate only as much as is important to you.

Are you going through the motions of picking out a tree, stringing lights, or artfully arranging fresh boughs of holly on every available surface (what, of course I've never done that, I don't know what you're talking about)? Take a moment to ask yourself why. Some people love holiday decorating - and if you're one of them, great! If you're not, though, give yourself permission to go light on the Martha-Stewart-Does-Christmas vibe...or even skip it entirely.

But what about the kids, I hear you asking, which is a totally fair question. If you have kids, I understand the temptation to turn the whole house into a sparkly, twinkly, tinsel-wrapped, sugar-plum-and-gumdrops-up-the-ass Holiday Wonderland for them, but let's be real: limiting the seasonal bling to a small tree and a string of garland isn't going to ruin their year.

This can also be a big deal for those of you who live in the kind of neighborhoods where every house is lit up like a goddamn casino on the Vegas strip, but try to release the obligation of participating if it's feeling like too much. Think of all the time you'll have for self-care while everyone else is balancing precariously on 20-foot ladders and trying to figure out why their moving reindeer statue mechanisms just aren't fucking working.

4. Give the gift of gift cards.

I've heard so many people say that gift cards seem impersonal. Honestly, though, I adore receiving them. They give me the opportunity to pick out something I need/love/will use, which is always preferable to that generic go-to gift that screams "I had no idea what to get you, so here you go." If you're finding yourself running from store to store in desperation, looking for something - anything! - to get for that tricky person on your list, do yourself a favor and pick up a Visa gift card instead. "I had a hard time deciding what you'd like the most, so I wanted to make sure you can pick out something you love" is a great way to say you care.

5. Opt out of gifting in certain circles.

It is one hundred percent okay to strike a no-gifts-allowed deal with your friends, or between the adults in your family. And - because I know what you're thinking - if someone breaks the sacred code and gets you a gift anyway (GASP), you don't have to feel like the Grinch Who Selfishly Didn't Give, nor do you have to race out into the world on Christmas Eve night to buy them something in return. The agreement was stated upfront, and the breach of contract is on them, not you.

6. Just say no.

Cookie exchanges, holiday maker's markets, Secret Santas - so much fun, right? And also, if the very mention of these wholesome holiday activities has you thinking about where you can make room in your schedule to squeeze them in - you do not have time. Don't sacrifice your own well-being to make the holidays great for someone else; focus instead on making them great for you, which means not packing your schedule so tight that the mere sight of it gives you palpitations.

7. Take a breather.

If your heart is pounding and your eyeballs are bulging out of your skull like Steve Buscemi on too much caffeine, take a minute - just one single minute, which I promise you can spare - to just breathe. Focus on drawing in long, slow breaths, feeling the air flowing through your lungs and down into your abdomen. Close your eyes and visualize the air filling your body with peace, calm, and contentment. It may seem counterproductive, but sometimes we have to slow down to go faster; when we hit our stress threshold, we're more likely to bumble around, starting sixteen different tasks and not finishing any of them. Taking a moment to calm and center yourself can actually help you go about your day more efficiently and with less stress.

8. Reduce your screen time.

There's nothing like scrolling through Instagram to convince you that everyone else is somehow holidaying better than you are. Put the phone down and instead be present in your day-to-day activities. Not only will it help reduce your anxiety by cutting out the comparison, it will also save you a lot of time, as most of us spend much more of our days with screens to our faces than we like to admit.

9. Don't neglect your basic human needs.

This should go without saying, but I'm going to say it anyway. You have a body, and it has basic requirements in order to continue its functions. Getting plenty of sleep, eating regular meals, and drinking water throughout the day are vital to your well-being, especially in times of deep stress. It's easy to let these things slide when things get hectic, but make a firm commitment to yourself to engage in these most basic acts of self-care. You need your body to be a well-oiled machine, after all, if you're going to enjoy the holiday season!

Self-care is essential, especially when we've got a lot going on! Do you have any awesome holiday self-care tips? Drop them in the comments here, or find me on Instagram to share them!

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© 2020 by Ali Owens​