Hello my friends! Happy holidays and welcome to part two of my holiday self-care series, packed with essential practices for a more peaceful Winter season. In part one I focused on food, yoga / bodycare and sleep. Today I’ll be focusing on self care practices for mental health, holiday aesthetics / environment and travel.
It’s taken me about three weeks of on-again off-again writing and editing to put part two together, so I really hope you enjoy it! It’s packed with practices I use in my own life that have made being a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) and empath more bearable — particularly in the holiday season.
No doubt, this self-care series is focused on practices for sensitive folks like myself. But regardless of how sensitive or not-sensitive you are, all of these practices are beneficial.
Before we get started, here are some links for context (and fun).
Now you might be wondering, what gives Renee the expertise in this whole self-care jam? Honestly, nothing but personal experience and facing my challenges head on. Being a Highly Sensitive Person myself has made me keenly aware of my need for extra self-care. To me, self-care is a way of life. It’s choosing what serves a vital, holistic and happy human experience.
Managing my HSP (also known as Sensory Processing Sensitivity or SPS) has helped me to develop a healthy relationship with myself. It’s helped me to overcome disordered eating, move past anxiety patterns and live with greater awareness of emotional triggers. It’s helped me to enhance my emotional intelligence, intuition and empathic abilities.
Living from a place of wholeness — to me — necessarily includes self-care… no matter where you fall on the sensitive (or not-sensitive) spectrum. At this point in life I feel I’ve developed a good amount of resilience, positivity, inner-peace, selfless kindness, hope and balance. Even when my life has been completely uprooted, I can come back to this place of inner strength and goodness.
It’s my hope that some of you out there who might struggle with being sensitive can find some of the peace I’ve found with the help of the many self-care practices I’ve outlined here today and over the past year.
Since todays tips do include mental health, you can expect some heavy and deep suggestions. There’s about an equal amount of lightness to keep it all feeling nice. Without further ado!
1. Develop healthy boundaries and strengthen your aura.
Right out of the gate… this is probably the hardest practice on this list, but it’s also the most important! It’s easy to get caught up in everyone else’s emotional experience during the holidays, especially if your a HSP. If you’re on the empath spectrum, you might even feel other peoples feelings somewhat directly. Healthy boundaries are the solution to separating your emotional experience from other peoples experience. One of my favorite boundary practices is envisioning a strong beautiful egg-shaped bubble around myself — this represents my space, my energetic field. My aura, if you will. As I sit in my imagined bubble, I remind myself that I have a right to health, safety, physical space, non-violent interactions, loving relationships, free expression and self-actualization. As I open my eyes and interact with the world, I carry this vision in my mind and let it guide my interactions.
2. Say no.
This is another boundary-setting practice. Start saying no whenever people impose on your time, energy and talents in a way that doesn’t serve you. This is not an act of selfishness but an attempt at serving your deep need for wholeness. It is helpful to ask your body directly how a request or demand is being processed. The imposition may feel easeful in your body (a good sign) or you may feel some agitation, pain, anxiety or “closing up” in your body (a sign you may need to look deeper into whether the request is a good choice for you at this time). This gets easier with practice.
3. Stop and ask yourself: “what will nourish me right now?”
Then take a small step towards getting to that nourishment. That might literally mean stopping and making yourself a snack. It might mean taking 5 minutes to meditate or simply breath. It might also mean making plans to hang with a friend or setting up a date with your partner / lover.
4. Go for a wander.
Nothing recharges my batteries better than a walk with no ultimate goal. Take 10 – 30 minutes for a walk outside, whether you’re a city mouse or a country mouse. Turn off your devices and observe the colors of the world, the sounds, the smells, the wildlife (if you’re so lucky to encounter any).
5. Take a no-screen day.
This is one of my favorite practices! Turn off your devices and choose instead to entertain and educate yourself with books, conversation and real-world activities. It gives your eyes (and brain!) a rest. The internet provides a lot of stimulation and mental clutter, so taking one day a week to switch it off is sort of like taking a stay-cation inside of your mind.
6. Practice metta.
Metta is a type of buddhist mediation that centers around compassion. This meditation is so simple, effective and transformative. You start by meditating on wellness, happiness, peace and love for yourself. And you slowly expand that awareness and intention to your friends, family, community, country and the world. Practice with this youtube video.
7. Create a ritual meditation / prayer / journaling spot.
Carve out a space! It could be your bed, a spot in your office, a rock out in the garden. It could be anywhere, really, so long as the space makes you feel at ease. Personally I place a blanket, a beeswax candle, a small stack of spiritual books that help me go inward and a journal in my space. I like to have a yoga mat nearby too in case I feel inspired to practice. You might also choose to have a meditation pillow, pictures of your heroes and spiritual teachers, some incense, plants, chimes and/or any other accoutrement that makes you feel centered.
8. Slow your roll.
Give yourself little “no-work” breaks throughout the day. This could be 5, 10 or 15 minutes. Make yourself some tea, do some stretching, take a mini nap or go for a walk.
9. Put on an empowering podcast.
Here’s a comprehensive list of wellness podcasts that are updated in real time. What are your favorite chill-out podcasts? Leave a comment and let me know! (Thanks Tania for the tip!)
10. Subscribe to these meditation podcasts.
11. Take yourself out of the mayhem / drama / triggering situation.
Holidays can be stressful and triggering. For many of us that means we are walking on eggshells around family / friends or we even witness and participate in fighting. It can be extraordinary difficult to take care of our needs in these situations, but the best thing that you can do in an immediate sense is exit. Go outside for a walk to get away from the triggering environment. Find a private room where you can take a break. If possible, arrange your sleeping space away from triggering people and schedule short visits with people who you aren’t comfortable being vulnerable with. (Thanks Mia for the tip!)
12. Be the brave one. Embrace forgiveness. Aka the best gift we can give is peace.
We all have baggage with family, but it doesn’t have to rule our relationships with them. Observe the emotional wounds, resentments and judgements born from your relationships. Choose to take a stance against bitterness, anger and rejection. Whether you are the source of conflict or not, let forgiveness be your guiding light. The most important first step to resolution that is almost never taken is being the first to give forgiveness and ask for forgiveness. That can look something like: “Hey Charles, I just want you to know I love you and respect you, and even though we don’t agree about everything I want to have a relationship with you and I hope we can put the past behind us.” It might not solve the years of wounding immediately, but it can be the very first layer of a foundation for future healing. (Tip inspired by Becoming Minimalist).
13. Take 30 minutes a night to listen to an audio book while drinking tea.
Turn Instagram off for this short period so you can let go and listen. I’d love some suggestions for audio books you’re loving in the comments! (Thanks Lindsay for the tip! And pssst that’s her in the photo above! Drinking tea… being magical per usual hehe.)
14. Be your own lover.
Whether you have a partner or not, take time to love on yourself the way you desire to be loved. Take some sensual personal time (*ahem* you know what I mean). Say loving words to yourself. Treat yourself to some flowers or little gifts here and there (this doesn’t have to be pricey, it could be a $5 zine or a bar of chocolate or cup of chai). Take yourself on a romantic date to look at holiday lights with a big travel mug full of hot cocoa. What would make you feel romanced and loved right now? (Thanks Sisselaia for the tip!)
15. Get a sunlight lamp.
Seasonal Affective Disorder affects about half of the people I know. Natural daylight lamps are apparently very effective at helping combat the sadness that comes with less daylight. Keep shining your light!
16. Find an empowering mantra.
My current mantras are: I am brave and I am worthy. These help me to call on my inner resilience and confidence. They also help me to speak clearly regarding my needs, desires and visions — something I struggle with as a caretaker type of person. You might choose a mantra like: I am resilient, I am whole, I am beautiful, I am loved, I am at peace, I am safe, I am embodying kindness, I am free.
17. Wish the stressed out people around you peace.
I don’t know about you, but other peoples stress stresses me out. I find it helps me to close my eyes and send out a little prayer of peace for those around me who are clearly struggling. Then I can let go of their emotions and continue on my way. (Note: file this under “reasons I hate going Christmas shopping.”)
18. Practice gratitude.
Gratitude makes us happier! And in a season of excess, it always helps me to go through the mental checklist of things that I generally take for granted. I say thanks for the roof over my head, for bountiful food in my kitchen, for the freedom to spend hours on the perfect pie. I say thanks for my supportive, loving and uniquely weird family. I say thanks for my healthy body and my amazing friends and my plants that haven’t died yet. It helps me to reconnect with how little I truly need be happy. The basics + love is pretty much it.
19. Start (or continue) your journaling practice.
When you first wake up in the morning write 3 pages worth of absolutely everything going on in your head. Don’t worry about grammar, punctuation or even writing whole words. You’re never going to look at this stuff again, so don’t sweat the process. It’s the perfect time to furiously express every little grievance, annoyance, pettiness, exuberance, excitement, fear and joy that you might otherwise blurt out after a single rum-punch at the office New Years party. Journaling helps to put our crazy into perspective, helps to name the feelings and problems so that we can deal with them or let them go.
20. Go to therapy.
For some of us, the holidays are a dreaded time of year. The days are darker, the family is difficult, there’s not much money in the bank. And we’re expected to be all chipper, clad in fluffy sweaters and swilling sparkling drinks while listening to Bing Crosby for the zillionth time. There really is no better time to start therapy. If you find the holidays leave you feeling listless, spun-up, frayed, distant or hopeless I strongly suggest seeking out a counselor.
21. Dance it out!
The goal with this section is not to tell you the be-all-end-all perfect way of doing holiday aesthetics, but rather to suggest alternatives to 1. create a less agitating space and 2. develop a more “in-the-flow” style.
22. Get minimalist with it.
Set the tone for your home, decorations and gift wrap by choosing a minimalist aesthetic. Use all neutral colors (metallics count as neutrals in my book) in combination with seasonal greenery for a lush-yet-understated look. Even if you do a big Christmas tree covered in family ornaments, if you keep the rest of the home minimal you can create a more easy-on-the-eyes aesthetic. Decorate with pine and holly garlands, neutral pillar candles, tiny gold bells, pine cones, white cut-out snowflakes, eucalyptus wreaths, white string lights and neutral fabrics. Wrapping can be as simple as kraft paper paired with twine and foraged evergreen branches.
23. Use white, soft-glow Christmas lights on your tree instead of colored or blinking lights.
Busy lights with lots of movement can be agitating to the senses. I love mini LED lights in particular. In fact, I use them all over my home!
24. Diffuse relaxing essential oils into your space.
You don’t need a diffuser for this (although they’re quite nice). You can simply toss a few essential oil drops anywhere in your house to diffuse scent. You can also add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to a wooden clothesline clip and stick it on a vent to more quickly diffuse scent throughout the house.
25. Alternatively, make an aromatic “tea” to infuse scent into your home.
On the warm/cozy scent side: simmer sliced oranges, whole cloves, black pepper, cardamom pods and cinnamon sticks with a dash of vanilla extract. On the cool/minty side: simmer lavender buds, eucalyptus leaves, dried peppermint or spearmint and cardamom pods.
26. Choose neutrals with texture instead of pattern for your gift wrap.
Colors affect our mood, and at the holidays wrapping and displaying gifts in bright, busy patterns can overwhelm the senses. I like to use crepe paper or handmade recycled paper in solid neutral colors. I create texture and festiveness with pine and holly sprigs, small pine cones, metal or clay ornament gift tags, fresh flowers, feathers, rosemary and lavender sprigs, eucalyptus. Eva’s gift guide this year is full of great inspiration, as is Beth’s DIY Floral Gift Topper guide from a few years back.
27. Wrap in fabric.
Deliver your gifts in lushly colored reusable linen or cotton sacks with twine ties. Or wrap your gifts in a gift by folding a scarf or blanket around your box. Needless to say, soft-squishy-cozy looking gifts at the bottom of a tree are pretty easy on the eyes.
28. Get colorful but keep it chill.
If you’re a color lover, pick a maximum of three complementary colors for decorations (here’s an interactive color wheel if you’re interested). This is one of the easiest ways to keep your space looking intentional and sleek with very little work. Dusty / soft colors work best for me as a HSP. I’m a big fan of mauve, which I like to pair with dusty blue and champagne / taupe. But that classic red, green, gold combo is a stunner as always.
29. Don’t crowd your Christmas tree.
Space the ornaments out so that the tree has some negative space. Let the main focal area of the tree (center to top) be around three colors with enough space to show off special pieces. I find reducing busyness creates a calming effect.
30. Go all Charlie Brown with it.
Choosing a tiny and/or sparse tree creates a sense of spaciousness. If you already live in a small space, this is a great solution! Personally my favorite ornaments are soft felt creatures and everything gilded and sparkly. Tiny trees are particularly whimsical so I would definitely go all out with decorating since it takes up so little real estate and is less of a centerpiece in a room.
31. Light your bedroom with pink salt lamps.
I just got one of these and I’m obsessed with it. The soft pink light it produces is so relaxing and romantic. Apparently the salt ions from the lamp are good for you, but regardless of the legitimacy of that claim they’re beautiful and the soft light is very calming. Highy recommend.
32. Choose candelight.
Daylight, natural light bulbs and candlelight are the healthiest for highly sensitive folks — especially those particularly affected by light and color. Avoid paraffin wax candles and choose soy wax or beeswax candles. Set them around a warm bath. Serve dinner by candlelight. Light some candles for an evening meditation. If you get the opportunity, try lighting your holiday festivities with only candlelight. There’s something unquestionably calming and romantic about it.
33. Get away.
What better way to change your surroundings than by getting far, far way from your day-to-day! Take yourself and/or your partner and/or your friends on a nature retreat. Book a cabin or see if anyone in your community needs a house sitter over the holidays.
34. Invest in a self-care travel kit.
I always keep the following items on hand: sleep mask, ear plugs, ginger tea packets and natural candied ginger (for nausea), trace minerals electrolyte powder packets, 32 oz metal water bottle, neck pillow, turmeric pills (for joint inflammation and headaches), oversized cotton scarf (serves as a pillow and a blanket), and aspirin (because sometimes herbal stuff doesn’t work).
35. Travel with tech.
Bring a laptop, kindle or iPad ideally loaded with a few good books or movies. Download soothing music onto your device — (here’s a Spotify playlist I love). You might also download some guided meditations onto your device (see the podcasts mentioned above). Other great travel companions: comfortable over-the-ear headphones (they block out some noise and hurt less than ear-buds do), a charged battery pack for your phone, a meditative coloring book with colored pencils, a journal or a good book.
36. Moisturize with oils before travel.
I like to moisturize my whole body (except my face) with virgin sesame oil, virgin coconut oil or a coconut oil-based balm. I use a carrot-frankincense oil on my face. You want your skin to feel supple, not wet with oil. So to start, use the oils sparingly and then add more as needed to problem areas. This method soothes the nerves and makes the skin feel less sensitive, which can both be problems for HSP when traveling.
We all know flying is dehydrating. But it’s easy to forget to drink water while traveling generally. Do your best to drink twice as much water as you normally would. And avoid alcohol while traveling as well, as it dehydrates you even more.
38. Get plenty of rest after travel.
Even if you slept while in-transit, most people need some downtime afterwards. Give yourself permission to go to sleep early and sleep-in late on the day you land at your destination. It helps me to take a hot bath or shower before bed to coax myself into sleepiness. I travel with these packets of mineral salt infused with essential oil that I buy at Whole Foods.
Ok that’s it! Oh and if you’re looking to add some more self-care goodies to your life, check out my Amazon idea list here. It includes books, fitness supplies, body products, supplements and home goods. Wishing you all peace and joy during this Holiday season. xo — Renee