The Functionally-Challenged Family Holidays Official Self-Care Guide - Christine Kane

Last Christmas, during the 8-hour ride to my parents’ house, I looked around at some of the other drivers on the interstate.

A few people were tapping their fingers on the steering wheel and singing.

Lots of drivers, however, didn’t look all that happy. Many were gripping the steering wheel with both hands. Many jaws were clenched. I saw more than a few moms turning around shouting at their kids. Some mini-vans were weaving in and out of traffic at 85mph.

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”

Or… “It’s the most wonderful time of the year?”

I had an idea that someone ought to set up “Therapy Stations” in Rest Area parking lots. πŸ™‚

Now, I know some people will read this and think, “How ridiculous! It’s the holidays! No one feels bad about going to see their family! Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year!”

If you’re one of these people, then you have my heartfelt congratulations. And I’ll invite you to stop reading now.

For those who find the combination of holiday and family to be the slightest bit stressful, and for anyone who grips the steering wheel a little too tightly as they drive towards home – read on.

So, let’s face it. You can do your usual thing. You can try to fix your family. You can spend lots of time wishing your family were more, uh, normal. You can be pissed off about having to go to your Aunt Millie’s house every year. You can get offended at how no one ever remembers that, “No, vegetarians don’t eat pork.”

Or you can start from a better place. You can start from the only place that you can control.

Inside of you.

The Guide to Holiday Self-Care

If you create a strong foundation of health and rest and self-care, you’ll get triggered less. You’ll feel more at peace in all situations. Even in traffic.

Here are 7 simple tricks that you can begin working with now to help you build that foundation:

1. Go to bed before 9pm at least once a week

This is the most non-decadent decadent gift you can give yourself.

Most of us stay up too late thinking we can get another hour’s worth of nothing done when the most productive thing we can do is rest. If this is you, give yourself permission to go to bed before 9pm once a week during December.

2. Book a hotel now

If you are traveling to visit family, and if you’re typically a guest at a family member’s house, then maybe it’s time for a change.

You don’t have to get attitudinal about it. You can just plan ahead now.

Get a hotel room.

If you’re scared this will upset everyone, you can email your family in advance and let them know that you’ve chosen to do this. Be sure to keep your language and intent proactive.

There’s a huge difference between self-care (proactive) and self-defense (reactive). When you’re able to communicate clearly and proactively, people tend to follow that energy. Here are some examples:

Proactive: “I’ve been working a lot this fall, and in order to honor my needs this Christmas, I’ve decided to stay in a hotel this year. I’ll still be at all of our family events! Thanks in advance for understanding.”

Reactive: “Because you are all so irreversibly screwed up, this year I am forced to get a hotel so that I can have at least five minutes of sanity during these few days…”

Hopefully, you can sense the difference.

Many hotels offer great rates during the holiday season. Check out each hotel chain website and find a nice room near you. I always get a suite with a kitchen, so I can bring healthy food for breakfasts.

Once you do this, you’ll be more at ease about your trip home because you know in advance that you’ll have some time for yourself. You won’t be wasting energy wondering if you’ll ever get a moment to breathe.

3 – Exercise

I just started working with a trainer who gave me a superb rate because, “No one works out during the holidays. Then they all come back in January, and I can’t fit them in!” She added that this is the time we need to work out the most!

Get out and do vigorous exercise daily. Weight-loss isn’t a great motivator, if you ask me. But emotional well-being works every time! Your brain functions better when you exercise. And you’re less likely to get stressed out if you’ve had a good work-out or walk.

4. Drink lots of water

It’ll curb your appetite and refresh your system.

5. Be aware of Nervous Food

6. Get a good book

Everyone loves summer vacation reading lists. I like to use these lists for holiday reading. Having a great book is the perfect way to add delight to your day. When you get back to your hotel room – rather than watching another hour of the 24-hours of The Christmas Story – grab your book, snuggle into bed and get lost in a mystery.

7. Give Yourself Permission to Say No

You don’t have to go to every Christmas event, party, or dinner that you get invited to. Holiday time also happens to be solstice time. And solstice is a deep dark beautiful time to get quiet. Give yourself that gift. If it feels too draining or tiring to go out, then you hereby have permission to hang out, read a great book, and go to bed at 8:30!


This series will continue with some practical steps to take before you start loading up your car…

  • fivecats

    i’ll add three things to that list:

    *set limits*

    chances are we all have situations within our family that helps us to realize we’re all a bit dysfunctional. whether its alcoholic family members, people who insist on hogging all of the attention at the expense of everyone else, the

    decide what family issues you’re willing to put up with and which you will not. if a behaviour starts up that you’ve decided to not put up with, let the people involved know you will not remain with them if the behaviour continues. no need to make a big production over it, just simply state your position — and be willing to back it up with action if it continues.

    chances are, even your decision causes something of a row, some members of the family will come to respect you for doing what they wish they’d done it themselves.

    (after all, you can’t control the actions of others, just your responses to them)

    *spend time with your chosen family*

    these all sound like classic problems with the family you were born into. due to time, distance and having created my own family, i haven’t spent much time with the family i was born into for quite a while. (i still love them, but the distance helps at times, too) my christmases are spent with the people i -choose- to spend christmas with. there’s no sense of guilt-ridden obligation to spend it with them; these are the people i truly love and want to be with.

    if for whatever reason you feel the need to spend the holidays with your birth family and wish you weren’t, try to plan out time before you leave and after you return to be with your chosen family. they probably would like the time with you, too!

    *leave the country*

    now wait — i’m serious here. planning a vacation can be equally stressful, but we found that leaving the country for christmas was a fantastic vacation. it’s a real chance to experience another culture. if it’s a largely christian nation, you’ll get to see how they do christmas; if not, you’ll get to experience keeping christmas in your heart and not rely on all of the outward, commercial trappings.

    your family will likely scratch their heads and put up a fuss, but just smile and say the tickets have been paid for and you’ll give them a call from ___________ on christmas day.

    (sure this one is a bit radical, but sometimes the more distance the better!)

  • Christine Kane

    chickipam – i hear you. i love twinkle lights too. i especially love them when it snows! sounds like you’re on top of things this year…

    great idea m! i encourage my self-employed friends to give themselves a “christmas bonus.” no one else is gonna do it! i got myself an iPhone for my bonus. πŸ™‚

    hiya kammie – i’ve been thinking about you! it’s good to hear from you. thanks for the thoughts…

    thanks lisa! (always good to hear that reluctant boyfriends had fun! πŸ™‚ )

  • Christine Kane

    katherine m/e – thanks for such a beautiful reflection on moving and should’s and twinkle lights!

    colin – that’s an interesting technique – it seems like it could make someone in my family a little hostile…?? did that not happen for you?

    kim -thanks! that’s good to hear, too! i had a great time in SLC – what a fantastic venue. And thanks for the idea about christmas cards. i think people would find them more meaningful when they receive them at a different time of the year.

  • Lisa

    I loved your concert the other night! It left me feeling “overjoyed.” My boyfriend really liked it too (more than he thought he would), and overall said it was full of positive energy. Thanks!

  • Kammie

    Hello Christine,

    I haven’t stopped by in a bit and thought I’d cruise through your space and see what you’re serving up for the holidays. It’s goodness for sure!

    I LOVE this post…I am implementing most of your list already myself…I have upped my workouts (and it feels great not to wait), am giving myself (and my friends and family) permission to say no (which creates more white space to say YES to that which really excites you!) and LOVE going to bed early.

    Every now and again the creepy “shoulds” enter the room and tell me I should be running, scurrying, and flustering about…but I am really stepping into this holiday looking to appreciate all the goodness and mellow downtime.

    Chilling out, spending QUALITY time with family and friends and showing gratitude for all the gifts I ALREADY have is how I’m looking forward to spending this holiday season.

    Blessings to you and yours Christine!

    Much love,

  • m

    I second the sending cards when you want to – the pressure is off and I like keeping in touch with my friends throughout the year.

    One thing that helped me when Christmas was truly hideous was the ‘to me from me present’ I chose something I really really wanted a super expensive luxurious book, cashmere gloves, a camera whatever wrapped it and gave it to myself. It took a lot of the ‘I don’t get what I want’ out of the holidays.

    Most of my christmas is now relocated to new years’ eve as its when my brother and sister in law and neice come up so we now open our presents then.

  • ChickiePam

    I just love Christmas lights. I love Christmas carols. I love buying gifts, too. But there have been years when I just have not had to energy to deal with the whole expectation thing. My daughter was quite distraught one year when I was in the throws of grief and just did not have the energy to put up a tree. She was 9 years old and friends came over and decorated for her. I just showed them where the boxes were in the basement and they did everything while I directed from the couch. I think it was March before I got everything put back up again, but that was fine with me.

    My tree is not yet up this year, but so far nobody has stressed about that. This year my son is working full time for the first time in his life and is totally enjoying buying gifts. He goes out shopping every weekend and drops hints about what he has bought. It’s fun to watch.

    Blessings to all.

  • Kim

    Christine, I found your blog first and your music second. And, I’d never listened to your music until your concert here in Salt Lake City last month. I now own 2 cd’s and adore them! LOL

    I stopped worrying about Christmas cards the year I had to skip them. I sent St Patrick’s Day cards instead and got so much positive feedback that I’ve continued looking for off the radar holidays, finding cards that sort of match that holiday, and sending cards then.

  • Colin

    An interesting question I asked my family once when the holiday emotional b.s. started was “who do you think you are talking to?” Only, it was a REAL question, not a rhetorical one, and not asked defensively. Try it sometime, and let them know you expect an answer. I’ll let you readers fill in the implications of the question, and of course, the answer. CK…my heart’s with you. Cheers!

    Santa Crusty

  • Katherine/ME

    “tradition” tacked on to the idea of “christmas holiday” can really pull me into the should place in my mind and lose all sight of my soul and self…and not even know i am doing it!
    thanks for pointing out what you and your husband do about your xmas tree on a yearly basis.
    i read that sentence and stared out my window for i don’t know how long. my mind was reeling me back in from being really swept away by the illusion of tradition and therefore “should do’s”.
    in the midst of christmas season and all it brings, i am getting ready to move my two kids and myself out of my boyfriends house of 8 years (this sunday is the big move).
    it is easy to get caught up in emotions and worry and then, the biggest fear comes true… my world falls apart! ahhhh!!!!
    so with moving worries getting tangled up with the idea of christmas lights in our new home, i needed to be reminded of what the lights mean for me. you are right on…not every year do lights give the same meaning. some years i see them and see the material christmas. other years, they mirror my inner joy and peace and my connection to “light and dark” in all its many meanings. sometimes, christmas lights connect me to my history and my community; a sign of hope and faith.
    this year, they are definitely more than material. so lights it is.
    thank you for bringing me back.

  • Christine Kane

    caren – post-self-care is good too! (though this post is designed to prevent the fall-out.) πŸ™‚

    sylvia – i think that the holiday thing is different every year for each person. the one thing that’s truly bad is the pressure of it… “Oh, last year i was so much better about christmas cards.” or “I don’t feel like going to the mall. Something must be wrong!” Letting go of some of that stuff can do wonders. some years, depending on my touring, my husband and i don’t put up the tree – and it feels great not to deal with it. some years, we love having it.

  • Sylvia C.

    Super post! I am in the group that is just now realizing this “dread” of the holidays. Before, I’ve always been one of those “most wonderful time of the year (exclamation point!). Now, I am rethinking my punctuation!

    Best wishes to everyone this holiday season. May we all be able to add an exclamation point, by creating our own bliss this holiday season!


    Sylvia C.

  • Caren

    I was reading this, smugly thinking… I don’t have it that bad. I know my family’s nuts, I’ve accepted it; they’ve accepted me, I don’t get stressed at the thought of getting together. But then I remembered that after I went to my Mom’s for Thanksgiving, I basically stayed in bed the whole next day, except when I got up to watch Food Network. Or eat. Not in a self-care kind of way, either. Maybe there’s a connection? lol

  • Christine Kane

    hello mtnmamma – and thanks for letting me know how you found me. it’s always really wild to hear from people that they stumbled upon my blog first – and my music second. it would make seth godin proud! anyway, i appreciate your kind words and thoughts!

    kim – i understand about the doctor’s note. when i first moved to asheville, i had a waitressing job which prevented me from going home for christmas. (this was before asheville boomed – and jobs were a little scarce!) my mom freaked out a bit. but now, after 13 years – she’s let it go! πŸ™‚

  • Kim

    My huge family gathering is at Easter. And it almost requires a doctors note to get excused from this gathering! I have always, even in my most broke days, managed to get at least a cheap motel room. This has saved me in more ways than I even know!

  • mtnmamma

    Thank you for your honesty and genuineness. As time has passed I continue to change and the meaning that holidays once held for me has changed too-or perhaps my perception or reality of them has changed. For me they tend to ignite a mixture of emotions.As you say it’s ‘inside you’ is where I’ll see a ‘whole other world’….This very moment I’m listening to “Right Outta Nowhere” which I had to purchase after discovering your music!……I find your music very peaceful, moving and inspirational and fun :)…..I stumbled upon your website through the blogging world…..I’m female and 53 and and was searching out some ‘BlogsByWomen’… life’s journey seems aptly described in T.S Eliot’s words: “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” Enjoy your blog-have it bookmarked ….good fortune , love and peace to you..

  • Christine Kane

    thanks deb – the next post will speak to more of this kind of stuff. it’s funny that people are already feeling that family stuff come up at the merest mention! (or maybe it’s not so funny…)

    thanks lisa!

  • Lisa Natoli

    LOVE IT. I especially love the “Attract, Don’t Push” story that you wrote under Nervous Food. That’s great advice.

  • Deb

    Great topic. I posted today on year end retreats myself.

    You have some solid suggestions that if people would try just one they would find it makes such a difference in the experience.

    @markp – I have found a slightly different intent works for me. While I agree with detaching from other behaviors, instead of pretending I’m not there I mentally remind myself that they have permission to be who they are and to act accordingly. I have keep reminding myself that who they are and what they do ultimately reflects on them not me.

    If they cross the line and start insisting I be or do something in their role-playing scheme then I have to physically leave the room or house and take a walk or a drive or even run out for more snacks.

  • Christine Kane

    thanks mark – great stuff. (more of that kind of thing in the next post!)

    mags – you could always do #2 – and see if anyone notices! (the stuff in the next post will most likely cover both situations – your house OR their house.)

    great suggestions katherine! thanks!

  • Katherine/ME

    The hordes descended on me over Thansgiving and one thing that was really great was that everyone helped with the dishes!
    And took over preparing a meal!
    Kids were asked to pitch in. My 14 year old daughter made pancakes because that is one thing she likes doing…which was lovely because she does not do much for others these days.

    When at my parents home, my mom seems to do most all of the work. I like when I remember that I am not 8 anymore and can make a meal and clean a house and take care of kids pretty well and do all those things while I am there. I especially like it when I see my brothers remembering that too! Gentle cues are helpful.
    “John, could you set the table with me while you tell your story?”
    “Andrew, can you help me make the salad while you tell our story?”
    “Raymond, could you stroll one of the kids with me while you tell your story?”
    “Chris, could you help me fold this laundry while you tell your story?”

  • Mags

    Thanks, Christine – so glad you’re doing a series of posts on this during December!

    Can I make a request for a post during the series on what to do if you’re the person everyone else is coming to for the holidays?! The hordes descend on us on the 22nd…. πŸ˜‰

  • Mark P

    Try this – it works for me:

    Before I go home for the holidays, I make a mental list of all the typical stuff my family does that drives me nuts.

    Then, instead of trying to “fix” them, preach at them, or react to them – which I did for most of my life – I now remain silent. I say only positive things. I let them be who they are, and when they act nutty, I pretend like I’m not even in the room. It’s like listening to music, or watching a sitcom – detatched.

    You quickly realize three things:

    1. It all happens anyway – without you.
    2. You realize what a bossy jerk you’ve been your whole life.
    3. Your life is so much nicer when you relinquish control over other people.

    Merry Christmas!