Holidays: A Lesson in Self Care

I had a lovely Christmas with family. Every year I do (well, at least the more recent ones) and each year it comes as a surprise. It usually unfolds as follows: I do fine as the season approaches but then, a few days before the Big Day, I start feeling melancholy. Anxiety creeps around the corner and then downright fear barges in. A part of me shouts: I don’t want to go. I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to spend time with loved ones, just leave me alone. And, while I have my reasons, its strange how every year I go through the same thing with the same conclusion: it is quite okay, in fact, quite nice, to be with family for an extended period of time. I guess I need a few more Christmases under my belt to satisfy my disbelieving parts.

  In retrospect, I think one of the main reasons Christmas started being okay for me was because I started taking better care of myself especially during the holidays. Unfortunately, I have to admit it wasn’t by design. As all great ideas seem to germinate, it was by accident. 

  It happened about seven years ago on Christmas Eve. As per usual I was dreading the season and the concomitant family obligations when my nose started to tickle. I was cleaning a friend’s house (taking in some extra cash) when this warning bell rang. I carried on, scrubbing the toilet and bathroom tiles but as the day progressed, so did the symptoms. By late afternoon on the bus ride home, the dreaded post nasal drip had begun. Christmas Eve was looking dreary. 

  So, talking to my private “chauffer” – no one else was on the bus – I whined about my oncoming cold. He suggested I go home, take a hot bath and drink some hot honey and lemon tea. “You want to be well for tomorrow, don’t you?” I grunted. A good Christmas Eve to me meant spending time alone with a trashy romance, a bottle of red and some delightful food, sweet and savory. Tea and hot baths had no place in this girl’s plans. Nevertheless, we playfully argued the merits of each until we reached my stop. I gathered my belongings and, lowering myself down the stairs, suddenly felt rather old, and definitely sick. I turned to say goodbye and begrudgingly admit he had won the argument when I collided with his parting words: “Don’t forget now, tea and honey. Have a nice Christmas!”  My reaction was visceral. “No! Forget that, I am having wine.” His words had startled me out of my downtrodden mindset. If I was going to take care of myself that night, I was going to Take Care of My Self at that Moment in Time and not for my family who expected to see me the next day.

  And so I did. Between bouts of sneezing and nose blowing, I toasted my life, my desires and my dreams with wine, dined on delightful food and read to my heart’s content. The next day I was sicker than a dog but felt tremendous. I called in sick to the family and spent the rest of Christmas day resting, finishing up the wine and reading romances. It was great.

  Now I am not going to conclude that wine and rich foods are ideal ways of self care but it is worthy to know that not only did I have a great day but the family dinner went on as scheduled. I was missed but there was no great calamity. Moreover, it taught me that I don’t have to get sick to take care of myself – I can take care of my needs with conscious awareness. And so I do. I attend (and enjoy) family celebrations but only after I have taken care of my own needs, whatever they may be: quiet time, a good book, a walk in the woods… whatever. Consequently I am happier and much more able to deal with the standard – and not so standard – issues that haunt any return to the roost.

  May your New Year be sparkling with lots of light and laughter!

Jo-Ann Svensson teaches “creative codependence” and is a Bodywork Therapist.