Self-Care Through the Holidays

If I’m not careful, every year by mid-November, my good self-care habits and intentions fly out the window as I slog away at work and try to fit one more thing into my schedule. But with each trip around the sun, I have become increasingly sensitive to stress, and my body, mind, and spirit cannot handle being ignored.

For instance, if I work past lunchtime, instead of eating when I’m hungry, my blood sugar dips low and I’m tired, dizzy, cranky, and get a headache.

If I stay up too late hunched over my computer–to get just one more thing done–I have a difficult time falling asleep and whatever sleep I do get leaves me feeling not very well rested.

If I fail to move my body and meditate because “I don’t have the time” my joints get sore and creaky, my outlook is negative, and I feel stressed, out of shape, and have low energy.

But it’s true that we all have so much to do and so many places to go this time of year. So how can we have a satisfying holiday experience while still practicing good self-care habits?

What To Do?

There are two ways that I can think of to have a holiday season that aligns with who you are and how you want to feel and still leaves room to take care of yourself and enjoy this festive time.

1. Ask for what you want and need. For example: maybe you could ask a spouse to make dinner more often, ask the kids to step it up with household chores, ask a friend if she could help you decorate for a party.

2. Say no and let go…of the idea of the “perfect” holiday. In order to slow the season down, you’ll have to say no to some things. Maybe you can bake 2 kinds of cookies, not 10. Maybe you can sign up for one charity event, not three. Maybe you don’t need to put up quite as many lights outside as you usually do. Maybe you get Chinese takeout on Christmas Eve instead of that huge Italian dinner you make that everyone loves, but leaves you exhausted. (I’m looking at you, Mom.)

When I was younger, I wanted to give my kids and family the perfect Christmas experience. The month of December was a blur of church events, recitals, and activities that left me with little time for self-care.

I always stayed up late on Christmas Eve wrapping gifts or doing last minute preparations. I’d get up early, serve homemade cinnamon rolls for breakfast, have my whole family over for dinner around 2pm, followed by a 5pm dessert open house when extended family and friends would come over. I would be dizzy with exhaustion the whole day and couldn’t wait for it to be over!

Then one year, I was actually sick with a fever, but still had to do all the things. That did it! My idea of a perfect Christmas had made me sick. So I smartened up and began to do less and ask for help more.

Questions/Thoughts To Design a Better Holiday

We are a just a week away from Thanksgiving Day in the U.S., which hurls us into the craziness of the commercialized Christmas season. Rather than live the season the same way year after year, what if you really did things differently? I invite you to sit with yourself and ask yourself these questions and then shape the next month in a sensible way that will leave room for self-care, wonder and delight.

Write down your idea of a memorable holiday season: how would you feel, what would you have time for?

Which holiday traditions do you or your family most look forward to each year? (Baking cookies with the kids or with friends, advent readings, attending a religious service, caroling, dinner with family…)

What things could you let go of this year?

What does your self-care routine look like during the holiday season?

What would your ideal daily and weekly self-care routine look like during this time? Be specific.

In order to have a ___________________ holiday season, one in which I take care of myself, enjoy the festivities with my loved ones, I need to: (Hints: ask for help from partner, kids, don’t sign up for as many events/activities, etc.)

Don’t Put Yourself Last on the List

As you’re thinking about the next month, make sure you make yourself a priority. No, this is not selfish! Women especially can struggle to take care of themselves. But guess what? You need to take care of yourself for you and for your family’s sake. Don’t wait to see what everyone else is doing before you decide when you can “fit in” self-care.

Have you ever heard that story about the rocks and sand in the jar? If you put all the sand (unimportant, trivial matters) into the jar (your daily schedule) and then try to fit in the rocks (the priorities) you can’t do it. But if you put the rocks into the jar first, you can fit the sand around them. Your self-care is a rock. Put it into the jar first.

These are my Everyday Self-Care 7

1.Move your body 

2.Drink enough water

3.Eat healthy food

4.Spiritual Practice (examples: prayer, meditation)

5.Get enough sleep/rest

6.Do something you enjoy

7.Practice gratitude

OK, I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you are designing your holiday season this year. 

Thoughts and ideas on having your healthiest, most satisfying holiday ever!

Evening Poetry, November 20

From The Essential Rumi

by Rumi

In your light I learn how to love.

In your beauty, how to make poems.

You dance inside my chest,

where no one sees you,

but sometimes I do,

and that sight becomes this art.

You can find this poem in The Essential Rumi.

Evening Poetry, November 19

Long Afternoon at the Edge of Little Sister Pond

by Mary Oliver

As for life,

I’m humbled,

I’m without words

sufficient to say

how it has been hard as flint,

and soft as a spring pond,

both of these

and over and over,

and long pale afternoons besides,

and so many mysteries

beautiful as eggs in a nest,

still unhatched

though warm and watched over

by something I have never seen–

a tree angel, perhaps,

or a ghost of holiness.

Every day I walk out into the world

to be dazzled, then to be reflective.

It suffices, it is all comfort–

along with human love,

dog love, water love, little-serpent love,

sunburst love, or love for that smallest of birds

flying among the scarlet flowers.

There is hardly time to think about

stopping, and lying down at last

to the long afterlife, to the tenderness

yet to come, when

time will brim over the singular pond, and become forever,

and we will pretend to melt away into the leaves.

As for death,

I can’t wait to be the hummingbird,

can you?

You can find this poem in Owls and Other Fantasies.

Evening Poetry, November 18

Here is a poem that I haven’t edited yet. I’m putting it out there because I’ve been having wonderful twilight meanderings the past week or so and wanted to document it in some way.

Twilight

by Kim Pollack

I startled the owl as I went through the line

of evergreen trees behind the house.

I haven’t heard him since late one September

evening when I stood upstairs in the dark,

with my phone pressed against the bathroom screen,

and recorded his hoots to send to my son.

The air is still and clear, and the cold curls

itself under my coat and against my skin.

I stand facing the westering sun

with its yellow and pink whiskers and wonder

what my kids are having for dinner.

I drink in the quiet, and as I turn,

there is the owl, with his white wings wide,

swooping silently over the orchard and disappearing

high into a Scotch pine. When I reach the orchard,

I visit with the old apple and pear trees.

Placing my palm on a slim gray trunk,

I drink in the rooted reassurance and

let my troubles slide away. I breathe in.

“All is well,” they always say. I thank the trees

for being there and wish them goodnight,

and head toward the love-light of home.

Copyright 2019 by Kim Pollack

Evening Poetry, November 17

The Slip

by Rachel Hadas

Empty and trembling, haloed by absences,

whooshings, invisible leave-takings, finishes,

images, closure: departures so gracefully

practice their gestures that when they do happen,

dazzled with sunlight, distracted by darkness,

mercifully often we miss the event.

So many hours, days, weeks, years, and decades,

spent–no, slathered and lavished and squandered

ardently, avidly gazing at nothing,

pacing the pavement or peering round corners,

setting the table and sniffing the twilight,

sitting and gazing at edges, horizons,

preparing occasions that leave us exhausted,

recovering, staggering back to a climax.

Dramas of use, inanition, repletion!

And there all along, except not there forever,

was the beloved. The foreground? The background?

Thoughtful, impatient, affectionate, angry,

tired, distracted, preoccupied, human,

part of our lives past quotidian limits,

there all the while and yet not there forever.

You can find this poem in Halfway Down the Hall.

Evening Poetry, November 16


Smoke in Our Hair

By Ofelia Zepeda

The scent of burning wood holds
the strongest memory.
Mesquite, cedar, piñon, juniper,
all are distinct.
Mesquite is dry desert air and mild winter.
Cedar and piñon are colder places.
Winter air in our hair is pulled away,
and scent of smoke settles in its place.
We walk around the rest of the day
with the aroma resting on our shoulders.
The sweet smell holds the strongest memory.
We stand around the fire.
The sound of the crackle of wood and spark
is ephemeral.
Smoke, like memories, permeates our hair,
our clothing, our layers of skin.
The smoke travels deep
to the seat of memory.
We walk away from the fire;
no matter how far we walk,
we carry this scent with us.
New York City, France, Germany—
we catch the scent of burning wood;
we are brought home.

You can find this poem in Where Clouds Are Formed.

You’re Not Listening (A Book Review)

If there was ever a book that was written for our time, You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters by Kate Murphy is one. It brings to light the modern epidemic of short attention spans and our lack of listening skills, shares why we need to be listening, and offers ideas on how to listen better.

Truth: I am not as good a listener as I thought I was. Sometimes I think about my to-do list when I should be listening. I’ve occasionally texted while someone was talking to me–something I swore I’d never do. There are times I finish my husband’s sentence, thinking I’m helping. I’ve interrupted and talked over the top of him or my kids.

All of this bad behavior has come on gradually, and although I wouldn’t blame my smartphone, I have definitely gotten worse since I started using one.

But I don’t want to be this person and I’m sure you don’t either. I want to show people kindness and courtesy by giving them my undivided attention, not to check out mentally if they meander or take longer than expected to answer a question. The good news is that listening is an art that can be improved upon with practice, just like any other skill.

One of the first things I learned in this book is that when two people are engaged in healthy conversation their brain waves sync up. And that this requires empathy which you learn or don’t learn in the first year of your life, based on how well your caregivers paid attention to your needs. Even if you didn’t experience this kind of attention as a child and develop good listening skills, you can acquire the ability to listen through deliberate practice later in life.

Another thing I learned is that if someone is boring you in a conversation, it’s most likely your fault for acting disinterested, or for assuming you already know what they’re going to say. If you approach every interaction with another person with curiosity, as an opportunity to learn something new, you will be surprised by what people tell you, and how interesting they can be.

One subject that is especially relevant in today’s polarized political climate is in the chapter on “Listening to Opposing Views”. The author writes that when we hear someone talk about something which we disagree on, our natural response is to get defensive because our brains experience this as we would a physical threat. But by working through that instinct and actually listening to the person with another view, we will expand our understanding.

We may never agree, but we can “embrace the possibility that there might be multiple truths” (p. 88), and that another point of view is just as legitimate as our own. Don’t we all need to grow in this area?

I think the other chapter where my eyes were opened to my lack of listening skills was in the chapter entitled “Supporting, not Shifting, The Conversation”.

I learned that a support response is one “which encourages elaboration from the speaker to help the respondent gain greater understanding” (p. 137) which is pretty rare. Most of us take a shift response “which directs attention away from the speaker and toward the respondent” (p. 137).

So, for example, if your friend tells you about something that happened to him, you can either ask him another question about it to get him to elaborate further (support response) or you can say something like “Yeah, I had that happen to me…blah, blah, blah,” (shift response) and put all the attention on you.

One of my favorite lines is “Listening is about the experience of being experienced” (p.32). Listening is about connection, which, as humans, we all crave and need. Connection banishes loneliness and gives our lives a greater sense of purpose.

You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters will be published on January 7th. I could go on with all I’ve learned and how much I think we need this book now. Instead, pre-order your copy, and let’s have a conversation about it in January. I, for one, will be listening!

Evening Poetry, November 15

America, I Sing Back

by Allison Adelle Hedge Coke

for Phil Young, my father, Robert Hedge Coke, Whitman, and Hughes

America, I sing back. Sing back what sung you in.
Sing back the moment you cherished breath.
Sing you home into yourself and back to reason.

Oh, before America began to sing, I sung her to sleep,
held her cradleboard, wept her into day.
My song gave her creation, prepared her delivery,
held her severed cord beautifully beaded.

My song helped her stand, held her hand for first steps,

nourished her very being, fed her, placed her three sisters strong.
My song comforted her as she battled my reason

broke my long held footing sure, as any child might do.

Lo, as she pushed herself away, forced me to remove myself,
as I cried this country, my song grew roses in each tear’s fall.

My blood veined rivers, painted pipestone quarries
circled canyons, while she made herself maiden fine.

Oh, but here I am, here I am, here, I remain high on each and every peak,
carefully rumbling her great underbelly, prepared to pour forth singing—

and sing again I will, as I have always done.

Never silenced unless in the company of strangers, singing

the stoic face, polite repose, polite, while dancing deep inside, polite
Mother of her world. Sister of myself.

When my song sings aloud again. When I call her back to cradle.
Call her to peer into waters, to behold herself in dark and light,

day and night, call her to sing along, call her to mature, to envision—

Then, she will make herself over. My song will make it so

When she grows far past her self-considered purpose,
I will sing her back, sing her back. I will sing. Oh, I will—I do.

America, I sing back. Sing back what sung you in.

Copyright © 2014 by Allison Adelle Hedge Coke. Originally published in Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.

You can find this poem in Streaming.

Evening Poetry, November 14

I know this is Mary Oliver’s most loved, widely quoted, and repeated poem, but these are words that live with me. Especially during dark days when depression or despair weigh so heavy my heart can hardly bear it. In my head, I hear her saying, “You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting…” and it gives me courage to continue. To work through the painful things, to wonder at what cannot be explained, to remember that I have–as we all do– a “place in the family of things”.

Wild Geese

by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

You can find this poem in Owls and Other Fantasies.

Evening Poetry, November 13

In November

By Lisel Mueller

Outside the house the wind is howling
and the trees are creaking horribly.
This is an old story
with its old beginning,
as I lay me down to sleep.
But when I wake up, sunlight
has taken over the room.
You have already made the coffee
and the radio brings us music
from a confident age. In the paper
bad news is set in distant places.
Whatever was bound to happen
in my story did not happen.
But I know there are rules that cannot be broken.
Perhaps a name was changed.
A small mistake. Perhaps
a woman I do not know
is facing the day with the heavy heart
that, by all rights, should have been mine.

You can read this poem in Alive Together.