AS A SOCIETY, we view the holidays as a time for reconnecting with loved ones, sharing meals, and showing others that we care. Media portrayals tell us that even the most dysfunctional families can put aside their differences for the sake of seasonal celebrations. But we all know that that just isn’t possible for many people, who will spend the holidays alone, whether emotionally or physically.
There are myriad reasons why folks become estranged from their families. Sexuality plays a role in many cases; 40 percent of New York City’s 20,000 homeless youth are LGBTQ. Other bones of contention include partner choice, religious or ideological differences, abuse history, and extended feuds.
Many people who face these issues cannot or will not return home for the holidays. There’s no judgment here for those who choose not to see their families, because, for many people, staying away can be the healthiest and safest option. If you’ve faced a bad holiday — with or without your family — taking up a self-care practice is of the utmost importance in order to maintain your emotional, psychological, and physical health.
If you’re coming off of a stressful holiday, you need to be mindful of your situation and practice the best form of self-care for you. Don’t let anyone make you feel low for needing it. Even if your family situation is “not that bad,” remember: just because others have it worse does not mean that you are not allowed to have negative feelings about your experiences. You may be more sensitive to milder, “normal” dysfunctions many of us take for granted, and that’s OK. This is self-care, not what-society-allows-you-to-feel-bad-about care.
Here are a few ways you can practice self-care after a rough holiday.
1. Surround Yourself with Positivity
After you’ve had a negative experience, you need to balance out all those bad vibes. If you feel up to it, make a date with a person who prioritizes you and lifts your spirits. This person doesn’t need to have had the same experience as you, so long as they provide you with an open ear.
If you’re not feeling very social, you can still surround yourself with positive energy. Put together a playlist of your favorite music, or watch some feel-good movies. Avoid anything that upsets you or brings up bad memories until you’ve shaken off your holiday funk.
2. Go Dark
It’s OK to take time to be alone. I’ve spent plenty of happy, relaxing nights alone with a hot bath and a good book. Trust me: your friends will understand if you don’t text them back right away, or if you stay off social media for a little while.
That said, do not sentence yourself to solitude if you don’t think it’s good for you. Letting negative self-thought cloud your judgment and drive you further down the spiral isn’t self-care.
3. Indulge Yourself
I used to think it was pretty damn sexist to say that shopping makes everything better. And it is, in a capitalist-patriarchy kind of way. Although rampant consumerism is a problem, sometimes buying yourself a shiny, new thing makes you feel better.
You don’t have to spend much money at all to indulge yourself, though. There’s nothing wrong with treating yourself to a meal at a nice restaurant, but even little pleasures like hot baths, rich chocolates, cozy blankets, and good coffee can make all the difference between a great day and a nasty one.
4. Get Outside
I am in no way a sporty person, but I spent one of the most enjoyable days I ever had walking alone around the city I was visiting. It wasn’t a long trip, just somewhere between 20 and 25 blocks, but it was a quiet Sunday morning and the weather was nice. That little trek was exactly what I needed at the time: a chance to say goodbye to a beautiful little city, and an opportunity to de-stress before my flight home.
So get outside. Take a walk. Go to a park. Hit up your local hiking trail. Do something that gives you fresh air and the chance to be alone with your thoughts.
5. See a Professional
There’s a huge stigma attached to mental illness and mental healthcare in general, so I think it’s important to say this: turning to a professional does not mean you’re weak or that you’ve given up. Whether you are looking into medication options or just need someone to talk to, do it. Going to a doctor may not help you, but you never know unless you try.
Also, yes, mental healthcare is an expensive branch of medicine that may not be covered by your insurance. However, some employers and universities offer free testing and counseling for a variety of conditions, and others will help offset the costs. If you don’t have mental health coverage, research your options.