Putting yourself last seldom pays off
It’s that time of the year again—a season of festive, nonstop social activity. Your in-laws are in town, and you feel like you need to drop everything to make sure they have a great visit. Maybe you feel obligated to attend a holiday dinner you have no interest in, out of goodwill toward the host. Maybe your partner wants you as their plus-one at their office party, or your neighbour wants help organizing an event for the whole block.
While these events might be fun on paper, there are times when your gut is telling you not to attend and to take time to recharge instead. But how do you know if sitting it out is the right choice?
Winter holidays can be an opportunity for (re)connection—but they can also be overwhelming.
“The holidays always bring a greater sense of obligation, and I think it is important to just name and recognize that,” says Stephanie Davis, a registered clinical counsellor and certified organization coach based in Vancouver.
Trying to do too much, and putting others’ needs consistently before our own can leave us feeling burned out, resentful, and regretful. This can affect our health; regret is a largely negative emotion associated with depression and anxiety. Thankfully, there are practical ways to avoid maxing out this holiday season.
“I often advise my clients to do a bit of an audit around their overall well-being—or bandwidth—as the holidays approach,” says Davis.
Davis says that key questions to ask yourself in this audit include the following:
· How are you feeling about your relationships with those you may be seeing?
· How are you feeling about your own energy?
· What do you know about how [the] season affected you last year or in previous years?
· What do you hope to take away from this season?
The answers will help you consider how to proceed with asks that are made of you.
According to Davis, it’s also important to consider the flip side: how equipped are we to face the consequences of our “no,” especially at the holidays when it can create ruptures in relationships?
If you’re still feeling called to say no to something after weighing the pros and cons, Davis recommends using “I” statements (“I feel …”) which are helpful to keep the focus on your needs and avoids others feeling blamed, shamed, or punished.
With your newly freed time, draw a bath, watch a show, write in your journal, or do nothing at all. You’ll have more to give to those around you if you recharge and fill your cup. And remember that the right to rest is a two-way street: make sure to grant friends and families who may bow out of commitments at this time of year the same grace you’d like to receive.
If you went ahead and said yes to something that you didn’t truly want to do, Davis recommends not being too hard on yourself.
“The choices we make that violate our own needs or boundaries are often driven by our need to maintain connection and fear of what will happen to the relationship, and our emotional and psychological safety, if we say no,” she says. “Honour the fact that those strategies have been helpful in the past, which is why we default to them.”
Meanwhile, think about boundaries you can draw for next time. Davis recommends reflecting on the forces and patterns that drive your social habits, and speak to a mental health professional or coach to understand how we can shift those behaviours in the future.
“I often feel that regret comes as a consequence of betraying ourselves,” she says. “If we can be honest with ourselves and others about where we are at, those betrayal feelings lessen and then so does the regret.”
If you feel like you and your girlfriends are particularly maxed out, it may not be all in your head. Research on selflessness has suggested women may be more prone to engaging in behaviours seen as selfless and generous, potentially because of social conditioning.
Journalling gives you the opportunity to process your emotions in a safe, contained space and may help reduce your stress levels and improve overall well-being.
If you’re feeling resentful or angry toward someone in your life, try writing them a letter that you know you’ll never send; it can help you validate your feelings and let go of negative emotions.
Maintaining a healthy relationship with yourself will make it easier to identify your own boundaries and express them clearly to others.
Different psychotherapies, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), can help you to break out of unhelpful or harmful thought patterns and identify ways to better cope with stress or negative emotions.
This article was originally published in the December 2023 issue of alive magazine.