My goal for November was to practice gratitude.
Once again, I feel that I’m standing in front of a learning experience I didn’t expect to have. What I learned this November is that you don’t need to make a measurable change in order for you to see the change. I’m someone who is constantly striving for self-improvement, always looking for goals to set myself, and often belittling my own accomplishments.
This November, I’d say that I achieved my goal. I made gratitude a part of my everyday life. But I still feel like I didn’t make an “improvement.” Why? Because I didn’t learn some new skill or some other demonstrable factor. I’m having one of those moments where I wish I could step outside of myself and say, “Christine–you realize that because of your goal, your entire mood changed last month, right?” Yes. I realize that. And I’m, well, grateful for that. But I feel as though I didn’t accomplish much.
The holidays are wonderful in so many ways, but for every wonderful thing, the holidays also present an opportunity for stress. There’s the pressure of giving time and presents to loved ones, additional activities in your busy schedule, and perhaps some financial strain.
For me, the Christmas season has always brought on a double-edged sword of holiday cheer—I want to make the most of the season and do as many fun things as possible, but that can sometimes end up becoming a bit overwhelming. Then, if I slow down too much, I feel regret on December 26th. It’s hard to not give too much of yourself to others and the season without also missing some opportunities for joy. But you also don’t want to run yourself down and ignore your own needs.
In order to find balance, I’ve written this guide for ways you can prioritize self-care during the holidays.
Growing up, Thanksgiving wasn’t really on my list of favorite holidays. I honestly don’t have too many memories of Thanksgivings, and it could be because Christmas has always been very important to my family. I’ve jokingly referred to Thanksgiving as “Christmas 0.5,” because my family didn’t have too many traditions that made Thanksgiving stand out—it was basically like Christmas a month before Christmas, without the great music and cookies and gifts. But the holiday changed for me when I began seeing Jake.
Earlier this year, I realized that the media I was consuming was having a greater effect on my self-perception that I’d like it to. Every platform was full of clutter that I just didn’t want floating around my life anymore. In particular, I noticed that this media impacted my body image.
Most little girls grow up seeing images of perfect girls and women on TV, in magazines, and now online. We’ve all probably heard an Oprah-esque talk show segment about how harmful these images can be to young people (let’s be real, it impacts all children, not just girls). We learn what we’re supposed to strive for from media. We have family and friends to mold that too, but media teaches us what people think beyond our circles. And that’s a lot to take in when you’re young.
I failed my goal for October.
For years, failure has been my greatest fear, so to admit to you that I did not succeed in reading two books last month is not easy for me. A few years ago, I probably would’ve just lied and written this post about how satisfying it was to improve myself by reaching my goal. Instead, I’m writing a post about why failure is ok and how I learned more about improving myself from not succeeding this past month.
For me, November 1st has long been the first day that I allow myself to publicly express my excitement for the holidays. I’d start thinking about Thanksgiving and Christmas around the middle of October (Halloween has never been my thing), but I’d keep my mouth shut about it until the next month. After November 1st, all bets are off and you can assume that our conversations may involve gift ideas and seasonal recipes.
Baking has been a hobby of mine since I was little, though I didn’t really start to educate myself on techniques and start making things from scratch until after college. I eased myself into it by recreating some of my favorite Christmas cookie recipes by myself (I always baked with my mom as a kid), and I quickly realized that I loved trying new recipes too.
There’s something special about baking in November and December–something about filling your house with the scent of warming spices and heating your kitchen with an oven instead of a radiator. But it’s about more than just the sensations. Baking takes care of you when the weather is cold. It fulfills some needs that I think everybody has, so here’s why I think everyone should bake during the fall and winter.
It’s December 2013, and I’m sitting on the futon in my college apartment. My end-of-semester assignments are looming, and junior year is kicking my butt a little bit. I have a car, a bit of money to spare in my tiny student bank account, and something makes me say to myself, “I want to learn how to crochet.” So I drive to Walmart and buy one skein of Lion Brand Hometown USA and a hook.
So my crochet hobby didn’t exactly start in the most sentimental way. I didn’t learn from a maternal figure on a comfy couch with the smell of cookies baking in the next room. I learned from a YouTube video in an old apartment, all the while feeling guilt for all the schoolwork I wasn’t doing.
But it was this less-than-sentimental beginning that makes me want to share my story. Having this creative hobby changed my life.
When I graduated from college in 2015, I remember that one of my first thoughts was I’ll never have a summer break again. When you’ve been a student for nearly the first 22 years of your life, transitioning to working full-time year-round can be kind of daunting. Why is it that all the things that add up to the challenge of adulting only manage to reveal themselves as they require head-on confrontation? Three years into post-grad living, I’m learning that that’s life. It just keeps on coming. Then you think, Alright. Here we go. Another challenge to surmount. And then you do it.
But what happens when you get tired?
When Jake and I moved into our house after getting married, I told him, “I will not live in a house that looks like a college dorm.”
Aside from being sick of the kind of décor I had had on my walls since high school, I really wanted to live in a place that felt like home. After graduating from college, I lived in three different apartments in two years. Things weren’t permanent, they weren’t inviting, and they definitely weren’t inspiring. When we got married and got the opportunity to rent what is right now the perfect house for us, I was determined to make this space into something I had yearned for for years.