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It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Yearrrrrrrrr. Wait, already?! And is it?! For some of us, those words may make us feel warmth and excitement. For others, they can sound condescending and so incredibly off-putting. All of us bring dynamic memories and feelings to each holiday season. There is so much pressure to buy gifts, to spend time with family, to spread cheer to those around us. But holidays are more complicated than that, more nuanced. We may not have family that we’re close to. We may have lost loved ones throughout the year. Or we may just be tired– a deep level of tired– and not up for manufactured cheer. Alongside of all of this, there are ways that we can be intentional with caring for ourselves during the upcoming few months.

1. Create a safety plan

It’s okay to acknowledge that holidays and the winter season are hard. On top of the darkness and the cold, it’s the second time we’re navigating this time of year under COVID restrictions and protocols. This time of year may already bring its own difficulties, and these past couple of years have felt especially challenging. Because of that, it’s important to be intentional with creating a safety plan– a way to plan best ways to care for ourselves during a time where it may be exceptionally difficult to do so.

Safety plans are adaptable to the person creating it. They can be as formal or informal as is useful. As long as the goal is to think through ways to keep yourself safe and okay during a difficult time, you are creating it correctly. It may look like planning a weekly exercise schedule or identifying a couple of strong supports to call during times of distress. It may look like setting concrete boundaries with family members or buying a happy lamp for some fake sunshine. It may look like ensuring that your medication doesn’t run out or talking with your doctor about starting a Vitamin D supplement. Therapy sessions, short walks, long naps, piles of puzzles or books. It can take planning and intention and it’s never too early to start thinking through how to protect ourselves through the next few months.

2. Engage in meaningful connection

It is important to engage in meaningful connection during seasons of (literal!) darkness, whether it’s connecting with others who make us feel good or taking time to truly connect with our own mind and heart. We can gauge our own needs – it may feel good to be with others in person, to connect via email or letter-writing, or to take some time to be alone. To be able to have others hold space for us or to hold space for ourselves and our own needs is both something that is priceless and something that we deserve.

3. Listen to your body

Our bodies hold so much of our life experiences, and through difficult seasons, we should honor them by listening. There are a few things that we can be attuned to that can help in providing comfort and/or improving our mood. First is to discern when it is helpful to move and when it is helpful to rest. Both are necessary but can be very difficult to prioritize (They may be worth being adding to a personalized safety plan!) Experiencing consistent, intense emotions can lead to both anxiety and exhaustion, which is why it’s important to both move our bodies and ensure time to rest. One is just as important as the other! Similarly, we can change our body temperature to help regulate our emotional responses that we experience. When we feel anxious and overwhelmed, feeling cold can quickly decrease our heartrate. This is perfect during the winter—a quick couple of minutes outside can provide some moments where we can catch our breath and relax a bit. Likewise, when we are feeling sad or down, taking a hot bath or bundling under some blankets can increase our heart rate. Lastly, lack of sun exposure can lead to physical fatigue, irritability, and sadness and depression. Easy ways (like supplements) exist that can help regulate our Vitamin D levels, and it’s worth it to discuss with your doctor if you feel like it would be helpful.

4. Celebrate

Perhaps we can allow ourselves some space to celebrate this season? For some of us, there may be obvious things to celebrate—the holidays themselves, job promotions, new babies, a wedding. For others, celebrating may feel more like a stretch, maybe even something that feels impossible—how can celebration exist alongside of the pain and loss that you may have endured this year? Maybe it’s about celebrating things we didn’t have to celebrate before – a literal minute of peace, feeling heard and validated by a friend, crossing something off of your to-do list. Pain and joy work closely in ways that don’t feel intuitive but are true. Experiences of pain impact our expectations for joy and sometimes it means that we need to think small. On the flip side, sometimes pain leaves us more ready for joy—more desperate for it, even.

So as we think about celebration during this time, here is a reminder for us all: Allowing ourselves to celebrate, even something so small, will not invalidate or dismiss our pain. Both can exist at the same time. They often do.

5. Show yourself grace

Sometimes it’s necessary to step back and recognize all that we experience and feel during a particular season. Prior to COVID, the holidays may have been difficult for you. We’re made to feel nostalgic this time of year, and our pasts may not be ones that bring many good memories. It may bring up trauma. Sadness. Loneliness. Memories of a beloved, dead loved one. These past two years of COVID have introduced increased complexity and trauma, as well—death of loved ones, job loss, real risks with visiting family and friends. Things have not been okay. They can continue to feel daunting and exhausting. And what does all of this doom and gloom mean? We need to show ourselves grace. We need to acknowledge all that we’re enduring; we need to recognize our own resilience.

You’re trying your best during an unimaginably difficult time. You’re trying your best amidst experiencing pain and loss. You’re trying your best. You should remind yourself of that often, especially during this upcoming holiday season.