Self-Care During the Holidays

Well, it’s already mid-November, which means it’s time to start thinking about your own self-care during the holiday season.  In just about a week or so, everyone’s lives are going to get seriously busy.  There’ll be family obligations, work parties, and if you have kids, that means school parties and performances, too.  All the holiday stress can easily lead to burnout and/or meltdowns.

Plan Your Self-Care

Planning your self-care in advance can help you head off the worst effects of the seasonal stress.  Obviously, you need to maintain your everyday self-care: nutrition, hydration, and sleep.  Don’t let all the holiday treats take the place of your balanced meals.  Make sure you’re getting enough protein, fruit, and vegetables to keep your brain and body working properly.  Keep up your water intake – half your body weight in ounces of water every day is ideal.  If you slip into drinking nothing but coffee or soda every day, you’ll notice you’re not functioning at your best.  And definitely make sure you get your sleep!  I know this is the hardest part for some of us (me, especially!), but do your best to go to bed at a decent hour whenever possible.  You’ll cope with the holiday stress so much better if you’re well-rested.

Autistic adults need to plan specific self-care for the holiday season.  It’s such a busy time with so many demands and so much going on all around us that we need to take special care of ourselves this time of year.

Downtime is a big requirement for autistic adults at the holiday season.  Everyone is bent on being extra social during the holidays, so we need to set our limits on social commitments and make sure we give ourselves enough decompression time.  Find ways to get your downtime to stim, recharge, or just be quiet on your own.  Whether your preferred method of stress relief is a hot bath, a stimmy movie, or a favorite activity, schedule it in alongside your office party, kid’s holiday pageant, and visits to family – taking care of yourself is just as important! 

Why Not Both?

Are there ways you can combine stress relief with productivity during the holidays?  Maybe.  If you love to bake, you might decide to give cookies as gifts.  If knitting, crochet, or embroidery calms you down, maybe you can make some special items for friends or family.  Just make sure you’re not setting yourself up for more stress that way.  Don’t take on more than you’re SURE you can manage.  The whole idea of this is to keep your stress levels down, after all.

It’s OK To Say No

The holidays are full of social engagements, often more than you want to deal with.  Since limiting social obligations is a big part of autistic self-care for the season, I suggest that you prioritize your commitments.

Start with those parties, get-togethers, or holiday meals that you absolutely have to go to.  These will probably be family things.  If Aunt Mildred is going to throw a fit if you miss her Christmas Eve singalong and you won’t hear the end of it until next Christmas, go to Aunt Mildred’s.  On the other hand, if your office holiday party isn’t compulsory and you need to relax so you have the strength to face Aunt Mildred, skip the office party. 

I don’t suggest skipping your children’s school performances, no matter how tedious and trying they may be.  All the other parents will be there and your child will wonder why their parents are the only ones who didn’t come.  (I’m speaking from my own childhood experience here.)  Put kids’ performances high on your priority list and find other things to skip instead.

For any and all parties, think about whether you could get away with arriving late and/or leaving early.  Maybe your family understands that you have limited bandwidth for parties and will think nothing of you leaving after an hour (wouldn’t that be great!).  Perhaps you can tell your boss that you’re really busy but you can make an appearance at the work party – then just turn up, say hi to everyone, have a drink, and leave. 

Have Some Lines Ready

In order to avoid overloading yourself with all the social invitations that fly so thick and fast this time of year, it helps to have some deflection lines in your back pocket.  I hereby offer the following examples for anyone to use:

“That sounds great!  I’ll check my schedule and see if I can make it.”

“Thanks for thinking of me! Things are really busy that week but I’ll try to be there.”

“I’d love to be there, I just have to see if I can squeeze it in.”

Notice that all these lines include some enthusiasm – the person inviting you obviously wants you to have fun with them, so it’s only polite to acknowledge that – and then a non-committal answer.  You may never have to get back to them about it, or they may hound you.  Your mileage may vary. 

Also, never underestimate the efficacy of phrases like “family stuff” or “my kid has a thing”.  Most people won’t press further than that, especially during the holidays.

Find What You Love

What do YOU love about the holiday season?  I have a tradition of making jam and pumpkin bread over a certain weekend so they’re ready to send out as gifts in mid-December.  I also bake the same sets of cookies every year and watch the same several holiday movies.  Maybe you love to decorate for the holidays, or you get a big kick out of wrapping presents and arranging them just so under the tree. 

Whatever it is that you love about the holiday season, focus on that as part of your self-care.  If your thing is making people feel loved, spend your holidays doing five acts of kindness every day (maybe more on weekends).  If you really get into the gratitude of the season, start a gratitude journal with a list of things you’re grateful for each night.  If cooking is your favorite part of the holidays, you can always take goodies to work (everybody loves free treats at the office!) or volunteer to cook for part of the holiday meal even if you don’t want to host your entire family in your home.  Keeping what you love about the holidays firmly in your sights will help you enjoy the season without getting overwhelmed.

Self-Care during the Holidays

How do you practice self-care during the holidays?  What’s your favorite thing about the season – the movies, the music, the food, something else?  Do you have better deflection lines that you’ve perfected? 

Bonus question: I LOVE A Christmas Carol and watch multiple versions of it every year.  My favorite is Sir Patrick Stewart’s version – what’s yours?

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