Bringing Your Non-Negotiables Along for the Holidays


I’m an introvert who is used to enjoying a lot of alone time. I also historically have some tendencies toward people pleasing. Every time I travel for the holidays I come home so tired it takes at least a week for me to start to feel normal again.

As much as I really do treasure the time with family, I find myself alternating between frustration with myself for not managing my energy better and resentment that celebrations pull me so far outside my preferred way of being.

For years, I tried to figure out how to emerge from the holiday season cheerful and well-rested. The thing is, the holidays are different from everyday life. It’s not realistic for me to expect to feel the same way in the midst of all the festivities as I would during an average week.

As I learn to accept the holiday experience for what it is instead of trying to force it to be something else, I can turn my focus to the things I can control.

I know what activities and practices help me maintain my energy and calm. The problem is I tend to stop doing them whenever something interrupts my typical schedule—right when I need them most.

It’s true that during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season it can be harder than ever to make time for our non-negotiables . That’s why I’m planning how I’ll take care of myself now. It doesn’t matter that I know I need occasional bits of time alone to recharge. Once I’m surrounded by family it’s easier to stay on the crowded couch than to get up and take a few minutes away.

I’d love to be able to tell you exactly how to care for yourself this holiday season, but we’re all different. What helps me may not do anything for you. What I can do is share a bit of my own experience and ask you questions to start uncovering what’s best for you.

A few of my non-negotiables are journaling, exercise, drinking plenty of water, and quiet time alone. Drinking water isn’t too hard to keep up. I bring a water bottle with me and make a point of refilling it often. Some of the others, however, can get tricky in a house full of people.

I don’t like having an audience when I work out and I don’t bring weights with me when I travel, but it’s usually possible to find an out of the way spot to do a few quick stretches or bodyweight exercises.

I’m not likely to spend hours on end in quiet reflection when everyone is gathered together. I may not take the time for pages of journaling, but I still start the day with my three tiny lists .

I’ve learned that brief pockets of alone time throughout the day help me to be much more present with the people around me the rest of the time. Listening to relaxing music with headphones brings my attention back to one place after being surrounded by so many people and conversations. I set an alarm so I can rest without watching the clock or worrying about being away too long.

I’ve learned from experience that planning what I’m going to do isn’t always enough. It’s easier to make a plan than to follow through on it. The more specific I am with deciding ahead of time what I’m going to do and when I’m going to do it, the more likely I am to follow through.

Your needs and preferences and circumstances may be similar to mine or they might be very different. To start making your own holiday plan, try asking yourself these questions:

  1. What are your non-negotiables? What activities or practices help you feel peaceful, content, and at home in yourself? What activities or practices help you feel energetic, enthusiastic, and ready for action?

  2. Thinking about the differences between your average days and your holidays, how can you adjust your non-negotiables to make them as doable as possible?

  3. What are three specific things you will do during this time to take care of yourself?

  4. When specifically will you do them?

  5. If what you are planning will raise questions, how will you choose to respond?

I’m still figuring out what works for me and what doesn’t. You may need to experiment as well. After, or even during, your celebrations I’d encourage you to consider what was helpful and what you may want to try differently next time.

Whether you thrive in large, boisterous gatherings or prefer quiet evenings with a select few, whether you travel far or host in your home, whether you dread the loneliness of the holidays or eagerly anticipate the connection…we all need little ways to care for ourselves during this time.

What are your tried and true practices? Is there something new you’re going to try this year? What aspect of the holidays is most challenging for you?