Self-care in the Christmas Season

Chronic stress is not a badge of honor. In fact, it’s a life-shortening problem. Stress is, however, inevitable, because there will always be conflict. Without stress, humans would not survive because they would not recognize danger. It’s just when stress gets chronic that it eats away at the mind and body. Therefore, we need to resolve stress and get past it.

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I teach human services to students. They move on to case management careers, often transitioning to some sort of counseling after a while in the labor force. One question I ask them in case management class is what their self-care routines are. It’s important to take care of oneself when you work with other people in high-stress situations which sometimes hook into someone’s personal hurts. It’s important for everyone to decompress and let go of stresses.

As for my self-care, I’m off work until early January, the biggest perk of being a faculty member. I’d argue that I need the 3 weeks at Christmas to recuperate from dealing with students day in and day out. It’s a privilege, I know.

Because my fall semester is rough and my spring semester rougher, and because I manage bipolar II (when it doesn’t manage me), I try to cram in my self-care over the Christmas season.

On my self-care list:

  • Muscle soak baths
  • Plenty of water to drink
  • Christmas scent spritzed in the living room
  • All the Christmas lights on
  • Christmas music
  • Occasional naps
  • Hot Chocolate

So far, so good. I think I’m up to writing some on my novel today after a week of recovering (and maybe writing 500 words a day).

I hope you get at least a few moments for self-care this season.

First Day of School

Even in college

Even in college, we have a first day of school, although I admit it looks a bit different than K-12. The students are older, and they have their share of adult problems. Some with children struggle to make time for homework; others have to work full-time; still others are fighting health conditions or watching family members die of cancer. Gone are the days when all our students were 18-24, could afford their college, and had parents who footed the bill. My students are at times tired, stressed, and worried. They’re not sure of the reward for going to college, except that it’s necessary to go to college to get a job. Necessary, but not automatically sufficient.

Being the teacher

Photo by Christina Morillo on

Being the teacher to these students means something different than it did when I was a student. I have to be clearer with instructions because they don’t have the leeway to get things wrong. I have to keep them awake in class. I need to listen with empathy, because sometimes they need someone to talk to. I can’t be infallible like professors of old; I have to work harder, stay humble, be on their level (except when it comes to course content and grading).

What this means to me

This means that showing up to class and teaching is not enough. It means that some of my days will be exhausting, and that I will sometimes be frustrated. It means that I will need support on some days. It means I need to get out of this COVID burnout to do my job.

It means that I am doing something worth getting right.

Where’s my Cookie?


I can tell I’m under much stress when my psyche asks for external gratification — not help, but gratification. “I’ve been good, God, where’s my cookie?”

The origin of this was discovering as a child that cookies could improve my mood by giving me a serotonin rush. Of course, I didn’t understand “serotonin rush” as such; just that sugar made me feel better. Thus began my lifetime relationship with carbs, one that gives me trouble to this day. 

When I was older, “cookies” took another form, external validation. Attention from cute boys at first, then recognition for my writing, and sometimes hoping the Bluebird of Capital would drop some money in my lap. 

Good things, however, don’t come on demand, and if they did, they wouldn’t be the surprise that could lift spirits. They would be expected. So I don’t really want the cookies I want, and I’m aware of that. And no amount of what you don’t need will replace what you do need, as Bernard Poduska pointed out in his book Till Debt Do Us Part.

What do I need? Rest, self-care, a break from the semester, all of which I will get soon.

Stressful Times

 These are stressful times.

The presidential election is looming, and there’s so much at stake. I do not exaggerate when I say I don’t know if our democracy can stand four more years of Trump. There’s been reported efforts of Russian interference through stirring up tensions and voter suppression in red states, and I fear that Trump will steal this election. 

COVID cases are on an uptick again, and some of my fellow faculty members have had COVID in their families. I’m not in close enough contact with people  so I haven’t gotten it yet. I worry about getting COVID; I worry more for my husband with Type 2 diabetes. Social distancing is starting to get to me. We have canceled both Thanksgiving and Christmas plans to socially isolate. 

This is a time of tension. I need to find refuge. In the fiery leaves of the season. In the rain patter of my words. In the spicy scent of a candle. In the music of my childhood. 

Within myself.

A Heads-up

I’m moving into the end of the semester, a time of grading and great stress. To make the season merrier, I’ve been exiled from my building for today and tomorrow due to — yes — bed bugs. Office hours in Starbucks aren’t so bad, though. Because of the piles of end-of-semester grading, I will be writing and blogging sporadically over the next couple weeks. 
Also, I feel a bit blue this time of year because, as you might have noticed, there’s not much peace on earth and very little good will toward anyone who isn’t our own people. It’s been hard to be an idealist lately.  The naive child inside me feels pretty battered lately. 
Please send love and hugs and good wishes my way, preferably in a way where I can read it.

PS: Tis the Season to Have Writing Woes

I am less than 30,000 words away from a rough draft of a novel, and NOW I’m struggling to write.

Yes, I’ve said that before and I’ve gotten over it. I still want to talk about it.

It’s the most stressful time of the year:

Fall semester ends soon, and do you know what that means? End of semester projects in three classes! Final exams! Finalizing grades!

Stressed-out students! Stressed-out professors! Stressed-out people driving cars!

My house has become Christmas Music Central! (All I Want for Christmas is Yoooooooo!)

What should I get Richard for Christmas?

Am I doing Christmas right???

So with all of this on mind (and more), I sit down with my work in progress and say “OMG I know I’m not doing this right! I should have done more of this, that, and the other! It’s too long! It’s too short! It’s too complicated! It’s too simple! I haven’t even finished Prodigies!”

What to do?

1) Think about the book before I sleep. Some of my best plot ideas come from dreams.
2) Sit down during my usual allocated time (after I publish the blog in the mornings and before work) and GO FORWARD, not look back.
3) Drink coffee.