Last Christmas, the Sanctuary team shared some of our favourite ways of attending to our own self-care amidst a season of grief and loss. This Christmas may look and feel different compared to last year as many of us make plans to gather physically with our loved ones. At the same time, feelings of anxiety, isolation, and loneliness continue to persist, especially with the ongoing uncertainties around the discovery of new COVID-19 variants and ever-changing travel restrictions.
It is with these aspects of our everyday reality in mind that we offer a fresh take on our favourite forms of self-care in 2021. One common thread that links all our varied contributions together this year is that they are particularly focused on embodiment. From baking and decorating to pottery-making and skiing, may these practices spark ideas for self-care in your lives and serve as gentle invitations for you to pause, slow down, rest, and reflect this Yuletide season.
From all of us at Sanctuary: Thank you for journeying with us this past year. Receive this Irish Christmas blessing with our love and gratitude:
The light of the Christmas star to you
The warmth of home and hearth to you
The cheer and goodwill of friends to you
The hope of a childlike heart to you
The joy of a thousand angels to you
The love of the Son and God’s peace to you.
Grounding exercises that engage the five senses can counter the stress response in our bodies and help us experience the present with fresh joy and gratitude. With this in mind, I have intentionally filled my home with wonderful smells this holiday season. My Christmas tree is decorated with gingerbread ornaments, there are new candles on my desk and bookcase, and I have even brought back a family tradition involving cinnamon sticks, cloves, and orange peels simmering on the stove. When I pause in the midst of my day and inhale deeply, the different fragrances remind me that the present moment is good, and that God is present here, too.
One self-care practice I seek to draw upon is play. Whether it’s a game, a sporting activity, a Lego set, or a crafting activity with my children, taking time to play is always an act that is restorative for my wellbeing. The practice of play also reminds me that I am human and that I am made for more than productivity and performance.
In the Christmas season of busyness, my self-care is often relational. My cup is filled with eggnog and quality time with family as we sit around the warmth of the fireplace, often with a charcuterie board at the centre. Perhaps it is a eucharistic practice, but as we laugh, cry, or simply connect with each other, we negotiate the act of being present.
This Advent has been particularly meaningful as I carry a child within my own womb. Whenever we gather, my three older children will usually place their hands on my belly, hoping to feel a kick or movement of the life within. It prompts me to notice the life within each of us. I see this as a practice of self-care which reminds me to slow down and to seek, and to be present and grateful for the many spaces and ways in which life grows in our midst.
At Sanctuary, we acknowledge that pregnancy may be a painful subject for some. If you have been touched by miscarriage, stillbirth, infant loss, or any other form of loss associated with pregnancy, we see you and recognize that these experiences can have profound effects on mental health and wellbeing. We invite you to read a blog post by our Program Director, Kate Dewhurst: i carry your heart with me
Walks with my dog
My current self-care routine involves taking our foster dog Jack for his walks. He is quite old and has short legs so we don’t go far, but in the thick of British winter, getting outdoors a couple of times every day, being in nature, and meeting other people while out walking recharges my batteries for whatever the day might hold.
Learning something new
This fall, I recognized that I needed to do something different and intentional to care for my mental health. I love learning new things, and I wanted to do something where it didn’t matter whether or not I was actually good at it. I knew that I needed something away from my house and without screens, so I signed up for a ceramics class where I learned about wheel throwing. Going to class once a week, engaging with something entirely different from the rest of my life, and creating something with my hands was so good for me. You could also try learning something new from YouTube, a book, a friend, or a mentor!
For me, there’s no better form of self-care than getting out on my mountain bike no matter what mood I am in. I love pedalling up the mountain and listening to the latest album from my favourite bands, a new podcast, or to nature sounds and connecting with my thoughts before I plummet back down on some awesome North Shore trails.
Listen to Sanctuary, a song about brokenness and the healing power of grace by our ambassador John Swinton
Baking family recipes reminds me of where I come from and who I belong to, which gives me perspective in the midst of stressful and complicated days. As a three-year-old, one of my favourite memories is baking with my Nana in her red kitchen. This is her Scottish mother’s recipe for shortbread. Baking it feels a little like prayer… and maybe even self-care.
1 cup butter
½ cup granulated sugar
1½ cups flour
1/4 cups cornstarch
Cream butter and sugar in a medium bowl. Beat until light and fluffy. Add flour and cornstarch gradually while beating. Beat until light (with an electric hand or stand mixer, if you have one). Drop teaspoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 325° for 12-14 minutes. Cool. Share.
One activity that I enjoy and benefit from, both mentally and physically, is running. Whether I am pounding the pavement or a forest path, running is a great release. Often, I will use the time to reflect on things that are happening in my life, but it is also great to focus simply on the rhythm of my breath and stride and enjoy my surroundings. My motto: just showing up is the win! No matter how hard or far I go on a particular day, the fact that I got out at all checks the “exercise box” for me.
Listening to music
As an Australian living in Vancouver, the dark and short days of the Christmas season feel foreign and difficult and so, I listen to Josh Garrels’ Christmas album, The Light Came Down. Garrels’ lyrics from this album comfort me: “The light came down, cast the darkness away… There is a light. A new day dawning. Old things pass. All things made new.” Thank you Jesus, light of the world, that the darkness will not last.
Explore your mental wellbeing this Advent through reflective questions from our UK Director, Corin Pilling
During the busyness of this season, I find it so important to centre myself and feel grounded every day. My daily centering time allows me to connect to my feelings and my body with self-compassion. This “reconnecting” also allows me to connect with other people and with my Creator too.
Finding joy in movement has been my go-to self-care lately. When the days are longer and brighter, there is no greater feeling than trail running: flying downhill, arms akimbo, and powered by my own two feet. Now that it’s chillier, I’ve replaced that activity with the exhilaration of skiing. As this winter sport is something I started later in life, I get to wonder every time at the beauty of learning a skill as an adult.
And when life becomes overwhelming, picking up heavy objects at the gym has also proved to be a surprising balm to my soul. Focusing on the feeling of movement and experiencing the joy of developing new skills allow me to forget everything else.
A big pot of soup simmering on the stove, full to the brim with all of my favourite ingredients—I love cooking by feel instead of following a recipe. The creativity and spontaneity I exercise in the kitchen through preparing this meal is my form of self-care during these cold and dark winter nights. It teaches me to slow down and allows me to experience delight in discovering new (and tasty) formulations. And when I sit down and partake of it at the table, I rejoice in a creative God who is present in all aspects of life and helps me to experience joy in something as ordinary as making soup.
 Meredith Gould, The Catholic Home: Celebrations and Traditions for Holidays, Feast Days, and Every Day (New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2006), 36.