Ten Holiday Self-Care Tips
for Music Therapists

Ami Kunimura, MA, MT-BC

(One quick note here: Sometimes self-care tips can illuminate what you’re not doing and bring up feelings of guilt or not being/doing enough. Instead of using these as reasons to be hard on yourself, use these tips as encouragement and validation. If you struggle with any of these, you are not alone. Also, you are not required or expected to follow all of these tips to be a good music therapist. Do what you can. Even small adjustments to your self-care practices can make a difference and are worth giving yourself credit for.)

Self-Care Tip #1: Take Care of Your Voice

Many music therapists sing more than usual during the holidays, especially this month. Music is such an integral part of the holidays, which gives us an important role at work but also impacts our vocal health.

Here are some suggestions on how to take care of your voice:

  • Stay hydrated with room temperature water. Drink more water than usual. Carry water around with you. (And I hate to say this, but coffee or sweet holiday beverages do not count as hydration!)
  • The cold weather and heaters can cause dryness, so sleeping with a humidifier in your room can help.
  • Use amplification devices if possible. 
  • Be mindful of your volume when speaking
  • Give yourself vocal rest when you can, especially after singing for a long time or if your voice feels strained. Give your voice recovery time when it needs it, and schedule it in advance if you can. Silence is best, but you can also speak softer or less frequently.
  • Get adequate sleep. And, when you sleep, breathe through your nose, not your mouth. 
  • Your overall body health will impact your voice. Sleep, diet, and exercise will support your vocal health, and can help decrease your chances of getting sick. 

If you are doing a lot of singing this season, treat your voice the way an athlete would treat their body when running a marathon. Also know that you don’t have to follow all of these suggestions, but if you even implement one from this list, that’s good 🙂 

Self-Care Tip #2: Take in music. Receive.

On the topic of holiday music, try to balance out your relationship with music. Being a music therapist or a musician doesn’t mean you need to always be the one playing music for others. 

Enjoy music as a listener. Go to a concert, live performance, or have someone sing to you. Be on the receiving end of music and relax into it. Lately I’ve been enjoying the Acoustic Christmas playlist on Spotify.

Also, to balance out the music making you do at work, try singing or playing music with people other than your clients so that music isn’t just something you do at work or at school. Bring music into your personal life this season so you can enjoy it too.

Self-Care Tip #3: Pace yourself

Be mindful of holiday fatigue. The month of December often add things on to your already busy schedule, but this can be managed. December happens every year, and each year is a chance to try and do it better than the last.

When you can, plan ahead. Waiting till the last minute to do things can add unnecessary stress – especially when buying gifts or planning events. You can save money, time, and energy by planning ahead, even in small ways. Also, in the times when you can’t plan ahead and you do feel rushed or stressed – at least do your best to not be critical of yourself. Breathe, and do what you can with what you have.

You can also pace yourself with eating and socializing. The holidays can bring lots of changes in diet and social events, and a lot of this is in your control. There’s no universal answer on how to pace the holidays since we all have different circumstances, responsibilities, and personalities, but it can help to ask yourself this question: How do I want to feel on January 1, 2019 and what can I do to support that?

Self-Care Tip #4: Honor your personal boundaries

Before trying to set boundaries with others, first focus on boundaries with yourself. Some boundaries with yourself that can be helpful during the holidays are:

  • Not expecting yourself to do everything perfectly
  • Giving yourself the choice to say yes or no to things
  • Not giving away all your time and energy to others, and saving some for yourself
  • Budgeting your time, energy, and money to limits that honor what you are capable of this year

Setting boundaries with yourself will support you in maintaining healthy boundaries with others. When trying to maintain boundaries with others, instead of making blanket statements on boundaries to maintain with everyone, identify one or two people you want to work on having more healthy boundaries with this month. 

Self-Care Tip #5: Honor your emotions

We use words like “joy” and “cheer” during the holidays, but it’s important to remember that any experience that can bring positive emotions also has the potential to bring heavier emotions. Honor the spectrum of emotions that you feel.

If the holidays are a difficult time for you, if you’re missing someone or experiencing grief right now – be patient with yourself. Lean into your feelings instead of pushing them away. Give yourself space to feel, give yourself appropriate times to not have to pretend to be okay or happy, and reach out for support.

On the other hand, when you do feel states of joy and happiness, allow yourself to fully be in it. Breathe into these emotional states and allow your heart to fully experience it without distraction. A good way to do this is when you do feel happy about something, express gratitude either silently in your mind or out loud.

And, remember that it’s possible to feel happy and sad simultaneously. That can be a confusing experience, but it’s common and you can allow both feelings to exist together.

Self-Care Tip #6: Be mindful of comparison

Some people have more than you, and some people have less than you. There are ways that the holidays this year won’t be like the holidays last year. And, there are lots of ways comparison can deplete your ability to feel joy and gratitude.

Also, there are lots of different ways to celebrate the holidays. So celebrate in a way that works for you and feels right to you. It’s okay to be different than others and it’s okay to be the same as others.

One way to work through the challenges with comparison is to focus on what you do have instead of focusing on what you lack. Although comparison is a natural tendency, be careful of how it impacts your perspective of your life and your ability to be compassionate with yourself. See where you might have opportunities to practice this today

Self-Care Tip #7: Give yourself permission

One of the biggest gifts you can give yourself is permission. It’s likely already there within you, just waiting to be recognized and called upon.

During this holiday season, you have permission to say no, to take a few minutes to yourself, to leave that party early, to politely end a conversation, and you have permission to not be perfect.

You also have permission to enjoy the small things, to play music for yourself, to feel your feelings, and to be sad if you need to be.

Most of all, you have permission to be yourself. To be more yourself, what do need to give yourself permission to be, do, or have?

Self-Care Tip #8: Give yourself the power to choose

You are in the driver’s seat of your life (even when it doesn’t feel like it). Give yourself the power to choose and to make a decision rather than just assuming “I have to do this…” or “I should be doing that…”

Be mindful of any thought that starts with “I have to” or “I should.” Practice replacing this with “I can” or “I choose to” and see how that impacts your mindset and actions.

True self-care is making a conscious choice and deciding what is best for you. Instead of letting guilt, cravings, fear, or other people’s agendas make decisions for you, practice taking a breath saying to yourself, “I have a choice.”

Try out giving these gifts to yourself this week, and be patient with yourself. These self-care practices are just that – practices.

Self-Care Tip #9: Don’t forget to be here

Don’t let this month or holiday season just pass you by. Try not to get so involved with the planning and the details that you miss out on connecting with yourself and the people you care about.

I know there’s a lot going on and a lot to do. Pause for a second once in a while and take it one thing at a time. Remember that you are alive right now and you are a human being with limits but you are also a person with a huge capacity to experience love, gratitude, and joy.

Use these self-care tools to support you in this, and to help you find moments of contentment this season.

So, remember what you’re doing this all for. Catch yourself in a moment, take a deep breath, and be present with yourself and the people around you. With each song you sing, with each meal, and with each passing day this month, allow yourself to be alive in it.

Self-Care Tip #10: Don’t forget yourself

There are so many things you can give yourself at the end of the year, such as:

– Letting yourself off the hook for something
– Forgiving yourself for something
– Five minutes to yourself
– Compassion instead of criticism

Don’t forget yourself. Balance out all the giving you’ve done for others this year by giving back to yourself. You can also intentionally budget out some time and/or money for YOU. Doesn’t need to be a lot – something is better than nothing. Ask your heart what it wants.

So I want to close out this week with a big THANK YOU for the work you do.
Thank you for being a part of the music therapy community.
Thank you for what you bring to your family and your community.
Thank you for being a light in this world.