Holiday self-care for artists (and everyone)

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It’s that time of year again. As autumn begins to give way to winter, there are so many holidays on the calendar; there are gifts to shop for, gatherings to attend, meals to prepare. For some, this is a time of celebration and joy. For others, it’s a time of loneliness and stress and grief. For even more of us–maybe even the majority of us–the holiday season forces us to juggle many conflicting emotions. Our love of hosting contrasts with the stress and anxiety of preparing to have guests in our home. Our love of our chosen family conflicts with the deep grief we feel at having lost–or become estranged from–our family of origin. Maybe you love making latkes or watching football with your cousins or decorating the Christmas tree, but this time of year brings up mixed emotions about family, or religion, or the passing of time. This is a time when we’re bombarded by messages about how we ought to feel, and even if this was uncomplicatedly the most wonderful time of the year, it would still be busy and at times exhausting. At New 32, we’re all about self-care; not the capitalist version of self-care that is sold to us in ads, but the actual deep rest and healing that can only come when you truly nourish yourself.

With that in mind, we’ve put together a self-care guide for artists. Here is a list of things you can do to have a more restful holiday season, gifts you can give yourself that don’t cost a dime.

Brag about yourself

Talking to your Aunt Sharon over a plate of Thanksgiving turkey can be a delicate balance when you’re an artist. I personally find it a challenge to share the year’s accomplishments and victories with people who don’t understand the industry; your extended family probably doesn’t understand how long it takes to make a movie, for example, or what a big deal it is that you met a producer you really connected with at a film festival. My instinct is to play down my accomplishments, and maybe that’s an instinct you share. If that’s the case, I want you to give yourself permission to brag about yourself a little. When someone asks how your art is going, don’t be humble; tell them it’s going really well! Just because someone doesn’t understand the nuances of your work doesn’t mean they aren’t going to be happy for you.

What if your family isn’t supportive of your work, or you won’t be getting together with loved ones this holiday season? You can still find the time to affirm the hard work you’ve done this year and all the progress you’ve made. Take a moment to jot down everything that’s gone well this year. Nothing is too small; every victory belongs on this list. From learning a new skill, to making a new connection, to creating something you’re proud of, it should all be written down. If you want to take this exercise a step further, find someone you can share the highlights with. Do you have a friend or family member who is supportive of your work? If so, take the time to share the things you’re proud of with them and let them cheer you on. With New Years approaching, it’s a natural time to reflect on the past year, and this exercise will help you approach 2024 with gratitude and pride, instead of feeling like you haven’t accomplished enough or that you’re falling behind.

Set boundaries

Arguably one of the most essential holiday survival skills, setting boundaries is also one of the hardest things to master. I know I just spent two paragraphs telling you to brag about yourself, but what if you really, really don’t want to talk about your art at holiday gatherings? That’s okay, but if that’s the case, you may have to work a little to protect your peace. If someone brings up your work and you don’t want to talk about it, have a script prepared. Here’s an example: “thank you so much for asking! Things are going well, but to be honest it can be stressful for me to talk about; would you tell me more about your vacation?” It’s totally possible to be gracious, kind, and direct at the same time. Spend a  few minutes before each gathering to think about how you’re going to respond to different questions and comments. This doesn’t just have to relate to your creative work; maybe you want to be prepared for comments about your body, or questions about when/if you’re having kids, or you need to be able to deflect political comments you don’t agree with.

You can also think about the boundaries you set regarding how you spend your time, money, energy, and other resources. Maybe you are excited to come home for Christmas, but you want to get a hotel room instead of staying at your parent’s house so that you can recharge your social battery. Maybe you need to spend less money on gifts this year in order to make your budget work. Maybe you simply cannot handle making the turkey for friendsgiving like you normally do. Be thoughtful about the type of celebration that will allow you to feel rested, and then don’t be afraid to kindly and thoughtfully set boundaries that will help you achieve that.

Don’t try to do it all

Hustle culture has done a number on all of us, especially creative types; we’re always trying to chase that next gig, get on the next set, get the next script written. I already have one article about the importance of rest for artists, but it bears repeating; rest is an essential part of the creative process, and this time of year when there is so much going on, it might be a good idea to take a break. Don’t feel guilty about taking some time to veg out in front of a cozy Hallmark Christmas movie, or spend your precious time off napping and going for walks instead of working on creative projects.

Take it a step farther and think of other ways you can make this season more restful. This ties in well with what we discussed about setting boundaries. Make a list of the holiday traditions that make you feel rested and rejuvenated, or at the very least feel worth the work that goes into them. For me, it’s making latkes and jelly doughnuts with my family and picking out thoughtful gifts for everyone on my list. Next, make a list of the things that make you feel stressed or anxious; personally, I don’t enjoy decorating for the holidays aside from a simple menorah, and I don’t ever, under any circumstances, want to be responsible for cooking a turkey. Your list will probably look very different from mine. As you make this list, be careful not to judge yourself for what you write down, and remember that if this doesn’t work for you, you can always do it differently next year. 

Some things may be unavoidable; maybe you show up to a stressful family gathering because it means a lot to your mom, or maybe you offer to host your chosen family’s gift exchange because no one else has a big enough apartment. It’s okay to make some compromises for the good of your loved ones, but make sure you’re not forcing yourself to “do it all” just because of the dates on the calendar or the weight of other’s expectations. Remember, the holiday season comes every year, so if you don’t feel like baking Christmas cookies this year, there’s always 2024.

Create your own rituals

Maybe it’s not possible for you to have the type of holiday season that will make you feel rejuvenated. Maybe the idea of setting boundaries with your family is too much, or you can’t afford to take any time off from your creative projects. Find a way to connect with yourself, your creativity, and carve out me-time even if you’re staying in your childhood bedroom for a week, or even if your house is full of guests. Just five or ten minutes is better than nothing. Here is a list of ideas you could pull from:

  • Start your morning with a tarot pull and spend five minutes reflecting on your card
  • Find a simple stretching routine you can do from your bed
  • Make a playlist that includes all your favorite songs and listen to it while running holiday errands 
  • Try a short meditation on Youtube or your favorite mindfulness app
  • Set aside time to enjoy your morning coffee or tea without distraction, even if it’s just for a few minutes
  • Give yourself permission to hide in the bathroom or go for a quick walk if your family gathering becomes too overwhelming
  • Plan a low-key end of year gathering with friends to celebrate all you’ve accomplished this year

What would you add to this list? How do you survive the holiday season and find ways to incorporate joy into your life this time of year? We’d love to hear from you if you have thoughts on this article!

Molly Stein-Seroussi

Molly Stein-Seroussi

Author

Molly is an author, screenwriter, blogger, and brand manager for New 32 Productions. They are passionate about sharing content that helps filmmakers live a more productive, informed, and well-balanced life. They live in North Carolina with their spouse and way too many dogs.

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