Mental Health for the Holidays

I think November’s been tough on a lot of us, and December isn’t necessarily any easier. Personally, besides the obvious stressors, I’ve also had a truly hectic month at work and came down with two colds in quick succession. Seems like a good time to review self-care. So here are some reminders, for myself as much as for you all…

1. Take the time to do something you love.

I was lucky enough to attend not one but two contra (folk dance) weekends away from home in November. Lots of exercise, friends, wonderful live music, the state of flow, and a natural high, not to mention the excitement of a road trip. (Of course, that’s probably also where I picked up both of those colds. Argh.)

2. Do something creative. If you’re a creative professional (like a writer), do something else creative.

I’m a big believer in “creative cross-training”. We writers love to talk craft and work on improving our craft, which is important. But it’s also important to go and try something else — something that doesn’t have the same stakes and expectations attached. For me right now, it’s Instagram, contra dance, and occasionally tinkering in the kitchen.

3. Try something new.

At one of the aforementioned dance weekends, I got to try English Country Dancing (a cousin to contra) and swing dance, both new to me (swing dancing has footwork, ack, but the music is so much fun…). At the other, I got to try dancing the “gent’s” role, which I do often, but this time it was with a succession of guys who’d never danced the “lady’s” role before. Watching them figure it out was just as much fun as doing it myself.

4. Fill the well.

One thing I’m working on is reading. I don’t read books nearly as much as I’d like to–in the evenings the Internet sucks me in, and then I’m gone. But for a writer, or any book-lover, reading is like breathing deeply, and the more of it the better. I also love watching a movie or TV and then dissecting it afterwards with my favourite media-watching partner. What? Not everyone does that?

5. Practice noticing the difference between nourishing and numbing.

On the other hand, we all know that too much TV, and sometimes even too much reading (horrors!), can be like a drug or candy, sating without really satisfying. What would really make you feel better? Maybe a walk. Maybe turning off Facebook for a few days (I had to do that a couple of times in November…and yes, it really is okay to step away from all the controversies and the outrage and the fear when you need to). That goes for food too–I was really proud of myself for noticing, during one contra weekend, a craving for vegetables, and being able to satisfy it by ordering a stir-fry of baby bok choy and mushrooms.

6. Pick and choose your holiday participation.

What do you really love about the holidays? What’s a family ritual that no-one really enjoys, or that causes one person way too much stress? What can you change to make this year more about warmth, light, togetherness, and hygge? For example, after I moved out of the family home and got my own address, I wrote and sent tons of holiday cards for several years, until I realized I was barely receiving any. Now I pick and choose much more carefully. Some years I don’t send any at all. We tried Handel’s Messiah one year and decided it wasn’t really our thing. We went to the outdoor Christmas market for a few years until it got too busy. We saw two very different productions of A Christmas Carol in consecutive years, which was fun, but now we don’t feel the need to see it again for a while…instead we’re going to a concert at a folk music club, maybe a craft sale or a different Christmas market. Maybe next year we’ll see The Nutcracker. Who knows?

7. Take care of your body.

It’s tough this time of year, what with all the chocolate and the cold weather (for some of us) and so much to do. But although we sometimes forget it, we are not just brains in a jar, and the physical manifestations of us do need taking care of. And little steps do matter. So make some soup, do some stretches, and go to bed early once in a while.

On that note…goodnight, all, and remember, just keep swimming!


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