The Gift of Self-Compassion: Mental Well-Being During the Holiday Season

By Alyssa Peterson, Ed.S., NCSP

In a season of wonder, joyfulness, and cheer it is common to question where we fit in and how we can experience the best sense of belonging to family and friends. Questions such as, “Where do I feel most at home? With whom should I be celebrating? Or, where can I feel most accepted?” begin to occupy our minds and overwhelm our sense of self. Whether or not we are conscious of these questions, it is important to take notice of any changes in the way that we think, feel, or behave during this time of the year. If we notice ourselves drowning in self-evaluation and comparison, then we can expect negative feelings to follow.

Most of us can agree that it is difficult to resist the act of comparison amongst celebration dinners, festivities, and ceremonial events. When we compare our position in life to those around us, we become vulnerable to heightened feelings of self-rejection (i.e. “I don’t belong”) or poor self-acceptance (i.e. “I am a failure”). Our responses to our environment can negatively impact what we believe to be true about ourselves (Brown, 2010). Consequently, the trigger of comparison can elicit feelings of isolation, shame, and hopelessness. However, by reflecting on the forces that influence our sense of acceptance, engaging in acts of self-compassion, and exercising resistance to comparison we can combat uncomfortable feelings throughout this holiday season.

Measures of Our Sense of Belonging

An effective approach to preventing negative thinking patterns involves connecting our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. As we reflect on our mental well-being during the most celebrated time of the year, the concepts of family and relationships are especially influential on our sense of belonging. Take the time to consider the factors as listed below:


  • Traditions. Some families employ and honor traditional holiday practices. Others may be open to exploring new traditions, adapting to recent changes in a tradition, or seeking to create a tradition.
  • Location. Our proximity to immediate family members or extended family. Relocation for work, reduced time off of work, or mandated holiday work hours can also impact the factor of location.
  • Anniversary of a loss. Grieving is a lifelong process that cannot be measured with time. With the arrival of the holidays, families are often reminded of the absence of a loved one. For immediate access to grieving resources click here.


  • Singles. The journey of independence deserves to be celebrated. Yet, societal expectations and standards can diminish intrapersonal advantages of the single lifestyle- especially during the holidays.
  • Couples. Sharing life, love, and enjoyment in a committed relationship has a wealth of benefits on our mental well-being. New seasons, such as the holidays, are regarded as a time of transition, or progression, for most couples.

While we examine our personal experiences, as well as our beliefs about those experiences, our understanding of where we believe we belong can become more salient.

Comparison versus Self-Compassion

Comparing our position in life to colleagues, family members, friends, or images in social media can easily trigger an attitude of self-criticism or even self-hatred. A more adaptive approach to evaluating our progress towards our goals includes, but is not limited to:

  • Praising our strengths. “I am a compassionate, loving person.”
  • Accepting our personal truths. “My imperfections strengthen my willpower.”
  • Surveying areas of improvement. “I am noticing I can do better…”
  • Reframing our expectations. “I am aware that I have room for improvement…”

Self-compassionate statements allow us to reframe our negative reactions to comparative thinking. Discuss the factors of family, relationships, and comparison with someone you trust and commit to one, or more, of the strategies identified below:

Strategies to Avoid Comparison

Community Involvement

  • Seek and participate in local city events.
  • Act as a volunteer for a program.
  • Share an experience at an affordable activity, opposed to purchasing or exchanging gifts.

 Creating New Traditions

  • Reach out and connect with family members by discussing your fears or anxieties about the holidays. Brainstorm activities that can be shared with the family to help address those concerns.
  • Honor the memory of a loved one by locating an item, token, or possession that can be included in the new tradition.
  • Plan ahead for future anniversaries, birthdays, or celebrations.


  • Seek out opportunities to network in your career field or personal areas of interest.
  • Connect with old friends or invite a new friend to join you at an event or holiday party.
  • Travel to a new, or old, location.
  • Create! Creativity is an attitude, not an aptitude. Explore your inner creativity by purchasing art supplies or taking a local art class.


  • Create quick reflections in the “Notes” app on your phone, or write them down in a journal. Keeping records of your thoughts is an efficient way to connect with how you feel.
  • Read a new book that identifies with where you are in life. Encourage a friend, or two, to read along with you!

 Indulge in Self-Care

  • Cook a new recipe.
  • Exercise.
  • Meditate.
  • Set new goals for the upcoming year.
  • Spend time with nature and exercise mindfulness.
  • Identify positive affirmations and express them aloud daily.

The strategies above are not exhaustive. The gift of self-compassion is a counter-intuitive approach to the overwhelming pressure to conform. Increase your awareness of the factors in your life that weigh heavy on your heart, and give yourself the priceless gifts of self-love, self-compassion, and self-care.

Please be advised that this article is published for informational purposes only and does not constitute as treatment for individuals with a clinical diagnosis. If you, or a loved one, are experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety, or a psychiatric emergency please seek medical attention from your local health provider. Additional resources for increasing mental wellness are available here.

Reference: Brown, B. (2010). The Gifts of Imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are.

Alyssa Peterson is a practicing school psychologist in Los Angeles and is spending this holiday season with a self-compassionate and liberated heart.

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