Shorter Days, But Busier Schedules? Self-Care and Boundaries for Winter and Holidays

winter blues and holiday boundaries and self care

winter blues and holiday boundaries and self care

Have you noticed that the daylight hours are shorter? It’s funny how one day, and not usually on Daylight Savings Day interestingly enough but just on some random day, you suddenly notice the change in daylight. Night has been starting earlier and earlier for months in a gradual fashion but one day you look outside at 6 pm and suddenly notice it’s dark so early.

And yet, just at the time of year when we have the least daylight hours, many of us find our social and professional calendars ramping up because of the holidays and events that come at the end of the year. This can feel overwhelming – even when it’s exciting – but it doesn’t have to overwhelm you. Intentionally setting boundaries and emphasizing self-care during this time can make the holiday season cozy and comfortable.

winter mood

Living In Tune With the Seasons vs With Society

As human animals, we are naturally drawn to live with the seasons. When we are tuned into this deeply, we may notice an urge to nest and rest as winter approaches. In nature, winter means a slowing down of energy, a resting period, a time of quiet and depth. Many of us feel a deep pull towards this ourselves.

Society is different, though, for many of us. Late fall and early winter are associated with holidays, gatherings, events, shopping, sales, family get togethers, travel … Perhaps a long time ago, perhaps still for some people, the winter holiday celebrations aligned with the restful nature of winter – families gathering for lingering meals and rituals for the end of the year. However, for most of us today, it is less about lingering at home with loved ones and more about all of the extra stuff it adds to our schedules.

This incongruity with nature can make many of us feel overwhelmed.

More About Natural Winter Seasons vs. Expectations in December

Seasonal changes, especially as winter approaches, bring about a natural shift in energy and pace. Nature slows down, encouraging introspection and a sense of hibernation. This contrasts starkly with society’s expectations during this time—marked by a flurry of activities, social gatherings, and heightened consumerism driven by the holiday season. The conflict arises between the innate inclination to embrace the quieter, reflective aspects of the season and the societal pressure to engage in a whirlwind of festivities and obligations.

Reconciling these differences involves a delicate balance between honoring personal needs and navigating societal expectations. It begins with a conscious recognition of the seasonal rhythms and their impact on individual well-being. Acknowledging the allure of slowing down, introspecting, and resting aligns with nature’s call, fostering a deeper sense of connection with oneself and the environment.

However, in the face of societal norms emphasizing heightened activity and social engagements, reconciling these differences requires intentional choices. It involves introspection and determining what aspects of societal expectations resonate with personal values and what might need adaptation. This could mean embracing certain traditions and social gatherings while modifying others to align more closely with personal well-being.

Finding this balance involves setting clear intentions for the season. It’s about consciously deciding which societal expectations to engage with and how to engage with them in a way that feels authentic and nurturing. This might entail setting boundaries—choosing specific events to participate in, redefining the manner of celebration or gift-giving, or prioritizing quality time with loved ones over the quantity of social engagements.

Ultimately, reconciling seasonal changes with societal expectations is about reclaiming agency over one’s experiences. It’s recognizing that while societal norms exist, individual choices and well-being hold significant value. By acknowledging the seasonal shifts, understanding personal needs, and making intentional choices, individuals can navigate this period with a sense of alignment, fulfillment, and inner peace.

Setting Intentions Before Winter Begins

As we head into this time of year then, you can benefit from getting intentional about what you want the upcoming season to look like. Take inventory of all of the things that you think it might include … and ask yourself honestly whether you want to partake of those things and how you want to do so.

  • Do you want to have a big Christmas with gifts for the whole family?
  • Does going out past midnight on New Year’s Eve thrill you or feel like an obligation?
  • How often do you want to socialize versus having quiet, reflective time for yourself?
  • Do you want to maintain your fitness routine despite the busyness of the season?
  • Do you want to travel to see family for any of this year’s holidays?
  • Is contributing to charitable causes or volunteering part of your holiday plans?
  • Are there creative or personal projects you want to work on during this time?
  • Do you want to establish a gratitude practice during this season?
  • Would you like to embrace outdoor activities despite the colder weather?
  • How can you honor and connect with your beliefs during this time?
  • Besides family visits, are there other places you wish to explore or visit during the season?
  • How can you balance staying connected digitally with being present in the moment?
  • Do you want your small business to participate in huge end of the year sales?
  • What expectations do you have, from yourself and from others, about the end of the year?

There is no right answer. That’s the wonderful, but also challenging, thing about being an adult human – you get to create your own life. So take time to journal, meditate, reflect, discuss and figure out what you really want your winter to look like.

setting winter boundaries

Setting Boundaries for Winter

Once you know what you want, you can start setting your boundaries to protect those intentions.

For example, let’s say that you’ve decided that you don’t want to miss your family’s annual winter gathering, and you’re willing to travel for that. And yet there are stressors with that. Some boundaries you might consider for such a situation include:

  • Reducing the amount of time for your trip (or extending it for that matter)
  • Choosing to stay in a hotel instead of a family home
  • Making certain topics off-limits and leaving the room if family doesn’t respect that
  • Skipping the big meal and visiting afterwards
  • Letting everyone know that you’re not giving gifts this year.

These are just a few examples of how you can reduce the stress of the holidays even when you’ve determined that there are things you want to participate in.

winter self-care

Self-Care During The Shortened Days of the Year

Setting your intentions and boundaries will go a long way towards improving the season for you. However, it’s daily/weekly self-care actions that really help us during the shortened days of the year.

First, recognize that this can be a hard time of year for many reasons. The misalignment of rest vs. busy as discussed above is one reason. Seasonal triggers are very common during the winter months. The weather itself can make you feel down; some people experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (see a professional for help if you think this is you.) Just recognizing that this is a hard time of year helps you remember to prioritize self-care.

Self-care might look like:

  • More rest, going to bed early, opting out of late night activities
  • Eating better instead of giving into social pressures to eat/drink in ways that don’t feel good in your body
  • Checking in daily with yourself to see if you feel hydrated, if your muscles are tight or loose, if you need more or less sleep
  • Staying warm!
  • Asking yourself regularly if you’re actions align with your intentions for the season.

How Therapy Can Help

Sometimes people reduce their hours going to therapy at this time of year. It feels like just one more thing on a very long list of scheduled events that you can’t fit in during the shortened days. However, it’s often these times when therapy can help us most. Going to therapy is an act of self-care.

Therapy can assist you in figuring out your winter intentions, setting and communicating your boundaries, adjusting to changes when things don’t go as planned, working through seasonal triggers, and more. Contact us today to make an appointment!

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