How To Make A Self-Care Holiday Swag Bag

How to Make a Self-Care Holiday Swag Bag

by Julianne Schroeder, MS, LPC, NCC

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You don’t have to just try to grin ‘n bear it to survive the holidays...

Self-care can help you create moments of true enjoyment, serenity, and gratitude

FYI: A few of these suggestions are specific to those who struggle with body image and/or disordered eating, but overall these tips can benefit anyone!

While the holidays can bring about joy, excitement, and connection with others, this season can also be incredibly overwhelming and leave you drained for many reasons.

(i.e. Dealing with anxiety about attending parties and managing food choices, jam-packed schedules, encountering triggering people, loneliness or sadness about relationships with family or a significant other (or lack of one),  financial limitations, increased work demands, the pressure to please others making it difficult to say ‘no’, etc.)

This self-care holiday swag bag is one that you design and cater specifically for your needs. Below are some suggestions of practical tools that help to prioritize your mental and emotional health so you can enjoy the holidays more fully!

I had fun creating this self-care kit with the members of my eating disorder support group and wanted to make sure I shared it with everyone! See below for suggestions of items to include in your #stressfreeswagbag.

1)  Mini-Mantra Chalkboard. We all need pep talks.

Target or any craft store has cute little mini-chalkboards that can be decorative and serve a purpose.  Choose a word, mantra, or quote that you need throughout the season.

Examples: “Breathe”, “It’s okay to say no”, “I accept what I cannot change”, etc.

Place the mini-chalkboard with your selected mantra in a place where you are likely to see it when you need it the most.

2)  Kleenexes & Crying… Because life is messy.

Including portable tissues is a practical reminder that it's okay to be overwhelmed or sad at times during the holidays. Refer back to intro if you need a reminder-- the holidays aren't always magical for many reasons.

You don't have to hold all that you are experiencing inside, and you don't have to mask it. Cry and let it out...You have to feel it, to heal it, to deal with it.

 3)  Stress Ball. Use a stress ball so you aren't a stress ball. :)

Pretty self-explanatory, right?! The beauty is that you can toss a stress ball or any other stress fidget in your car, purse, backpack etc. Go ahead squeeze it, throw it at the wall, or toss it back and forth from hand-to-hand. 

Some of my clients love what is called "Thinking Putty". (Think Silly putty kicked up a notch!)

Purposefully focus on tensing your muscles over the stress ball and breathing in for a count of 4 and then releasing your grip and breathing out for a count of 4. This helps move some of that anxious energy out of your body.

4) Tea Time. It's not just for those bloody Brits.

You can use your coffee or tea time to slow down and practice mindfulness. (Figures I would manage to suggest some mindfulness in at some point, huh?) Find a quiet space or put in headphones if need be.

Focus on how it feels to hold the mug in your hands, really savor the smell and taste, and allow yourself to sip on it leisurely.

I love Yogi tea for the poignant and often well-timed quotes they have on the tea tags.

Considerations: Be aware of how much caffeine you are consuming overall and know that it can't replace energy from not sleeping or eating in a balanced way.

Recommended caffeine dose for most people is 400 mg daily, and for those who struggle with anxiety, 200 mg is the recommended dose. Switch over to decaf if needed. You don't want overstimulate your body and cause adrenal fatigue due to chronic stress/anxiety and over-consumption of caffeine.

5) At-Home Spa Supplies. You deserve R & R.

You can self-care on the cheap, without needing to always book a professional! Designate a night where you have a mini-spa experience: do a face mask (there are cheap individual packets at any major store) , bath salts or bath bombs, paint your nails.

Consider giving yourself a self-massage (click for link for helpful tips.) Caring for your body in these small ways help improve body image, and helps to minimize  stressful thoughts and reduce cortisol in our body.

6) Gratitude Letter. Gratitude goes far. 

Gratitude practices have been shown helpful in enhancing your overall mood. Gratitude also helps to retrain the brain’s tendency to focus on the negative. (Click here for article from researchers at Berkeley.)

Gratitude doesn't have to dismiss or negate the valid struggles that you may be experiencing. However, gratitude allows you to also acknowledge the positive in your life, helping you to be more resilient.

Below are some options to cultivate an attitude of gratitude.

a.    Write a letter or thank you to someone in your life that you appreciate, or to somebody you haven’t talked to in awhile.

b.    Take advantage of a local volunteer opportunity if you have the time. Being altruistic and having a reminder of what abundance you have in your life can provide a powerful perspective.

c.    Keep an ongoing daily list of things you are grateful for. Remember that appreciation for the seemingly 'small' things in life can create big effects in your level of contentment if you make a gratitude practice consistent.

d.    For those struggling with body image: Write your body a thank you letter! This may be seem awkward,  but this helps to shift your focus to how you are thankful for how your body can function and the parts that you appreciate versus aesthetics.

(i.e.  Click here for an example of a letter that I think is is realistic, yet moving.)

7) Create a Compassion Card. Being kind and understanding with ourselves isn't always easy, but it is absolutely necessary.

Get crafty and create a compassionate card to yourself. You can find a quote or a reminder about how you are deserving of the compassion that you so freely give to others, or how self-care is not selfish. (You can be the best for others when you are your best self.)

Or maybe you want to remind yourself of the research supporting  self-compassionate as an effective method to improving your emotional, physical, and mental health! 

8) Journal. Create some space in that busy mind of yours.

Include a a miniature or regular-sized journal for several purposes. You can use for writing your to-do list and practice prioritizing or letting go of what's on your list,  or simply to free-write to express thoughts and feelings. So much research shows that getting your thoughts on paper and out of your head can help with your mood.

You can also find therapeutic journal prompts specific to the holidays online.

9) Light a lavender candle or use other aromatherapy. SCENTS the difference.

With lavender and eucalyptus being such calming and relaxing scents, it is understandable why they are frequently used for insomnia, anxiety, depression, and natural stress relief.

I personally love the stress relief collection by Bath and Body Works. I’ve found essential oils to be especially effective as well.

10) Permission Slips: They aren't just for school anymore.

Create a literal permission slip for yourself (you can write it on Post-It), reminding yourself that you can say no, or that it can be okay to take shortcuts. We become overwhelmed when we have to please, perfect, or perform for others. Saying no is necessary.

No, you don’t have to attend every holiday party, no, you don't have to find the perfect gift for everyone, and no, you don’t have to eat everything that is offered to you just to appease others, and most importantly...

You don’t have to feel guilty about making decisions that are best for you!

Lastly, these suggestions and tools for self-care are important, but please be compassionate and understanding towards yourself if you find that these tips are not enough. 

Experiencing holiday blues and/or heightened emotions this season does not mean you are “doing something wrong”. Booking a session with your therapist or talking to other supportive people in your life can help during what can be an emotionally challenging time for many.

Wishing you many moments of love, joy, compassion, and contentment this holiday season and beyond! -- Julianne