Making Yourself a Priority
Words by Rebecca Deurlein
The holidays: you’re either ho-ho-ho ing or ho-humming. For many, the holidays bring social anxiety, stress, and disappointment, the very opposite of what every Christmas carol and gift-buying ad tells us we’re supposed to feel.
It’s a vicious cycle. We’re supposed to be happy and joyful, and we’re not, so we sink into guilt, stress, and unhealthy habits that make it all worse.
Self-care is the first to go when we are overly busy and stressed, when in fact, it should be our number one priority. So, how do we ensure that we are healthy, stress-free, and yes, even happy over the holidays? We start by following some basic, healthy principles and insisting on time to decompress.
How to Protect Your Emotional Well-Being
Angie Pfeiffer, a clinical psychologist with Sugar Bend Center in Sugar Land, Texas, says that even people with healthy lifestyle habits—think getting enough sleep and having a good work-life balance —generally let them falter during the holidays. “Instead,” she says, “do everything in your power to keep them a priority. Try to stick to your normal routine and comfort level. If you do get overwhelmed, you have two choices: delegate or let go.”
Taking a step back allows you to regroup and give yourself a break. “This is an excellent time to add some brief moments every day to just stop and breathe,” Pfeiffer says. “Set your alarm to go off a few times a day, and take that time to spend a minute or two in deep breathing.”
We are all victims of unrealistic expectations—those we place on ourselves and those society places on us. Pfeiffer says it’s important to be aware of expectations versus reality. “Expectations are the Instagram holiday, everything looking perfect to others. Reality is rarely perfect. Instead, think about your own personal goals for the holiday. Do you want a fun, loving, family event? Concentrate on that versus ‘this is what I’m supposed to do.’”
The spirit of the holidays is love and acceptance, and when it comes to family time, that’s not always easy. But Pfeiffer cautions that as a society, we have forgotten that people have a right to their own ideas. This leads to political squabbles over turkey dinner or generational differences over how things should be done.
“Go into family events realizing that we are unique individuals, and opinions are created from our own life experiences. They are neither good nor bad or right or wrong, they just are,” Pfeiffer says. “Approach family and friends with a perspective of generosity. Intentionally see others through generous eyes rather than critical eyes. When we do this, we give others the gift of appreciating their goodness even when we have different ideas.”
How to Protect Your Physical Well-Being
The other half of self-care involves how we physically take care of ourselves. During the holidays, many of us stray from healthy eating habits, adding fats, carbs, sugar, and alcohol to our diets. Add less sleep and more stress, and our bodies—and our well-being—suffer.
A few practical changes can make a huge difference in how we feel and in how we get through the holidays. Registered dietitian and nutritionist Patty Martin with Sugar Land Nutrition in Sugar Land, Texas, says that the first way to combat these problems is to have a plan based on a healthy mindset. “When you go to a party, make a beeline for clean proteins like poultry, and vegetables like edamame,” she says. “Protein gives you energy, and that’s what you need during this busy time. Doughy carbs like beans and rice and tortillas do the opposite—they zap your energy and give your body too much sugar, leading to an average weight gain of two–four pounds, which most people never lose.”
Plan when it comes to sweets, as well. Martin advises a three-bite rule—enough to get a taste of your favorite cookie or cake without feeling like you’re missing out or depriving yourself. And drinking, which plays a part in your ability to sleep, to think clearly, and to manage sadness and depression, is something to especially watch.
“Try to cut your drinking in half from your usual,” she says.” You can easily do this by drinking a glass of water between alcoholic beverages. And when ordering cocktails, stay away from sugary mixes that can lead to hormonal and mood swings. For instance, order a vodka with soda, a wine, or a beer, instead.”
Martin also suggests ramping up your vitamin intake during this time of year: a multivitamin, Complex B and B12 for energy, Vitamin D, a probiotic for good gut health, and Vitamin C for immunity. “And don’t forget about micronutrient foods such as turmeric for inflammation, maca powder for energy, and ginger for increased dopamine—the “feel-good” hormone. They can all be added to simple, healthy smoothies.”
Finally, keep moving! A thirty-minute walk per day is one of the best gifts you can give yourself. As Pfeiffer says, ”You have the option of being intentional versus getting sucked into outside pressures. You don’t need to attend every party or buy the perfect gifts. Remember that you have total control over your decisions.”
Angela M. Pfeiffer, Ph.D
With over 20 years of experience, Angela is a Clinical Psychologist dedicated to helping individuals and families thrive. Her journey started at Texas A&M University, where she earned my Bachelor's in Clinical Psychology with Honors. Later, she completed a Master's and Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology at the University of Memphis.
Her expertise covers a wide range of areas, including ADHD, anxiety, depression, parenting, and more. Beyond her practice, she is involved in her community, supporting organizations like Child Advocates of Fort Bend County and the Girl Scouts of America.