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  • Writer's pictureLynn Cukaj

Self-Care During the Holiday Season

By Lynn Cukaj, ATR-BC

Art Therapy for Children, Teenagers and Adults

The holiday season is a time of joy and happiness, but for many, this time of year can also present challenges and cause stress. Without proper coping mechanisms, we may find ourselves acting out of place when we feel overwhelmed. In these events, we may behave in a way that causes tension or say things that may hurt the feelings of the people we love.

These challenges, however, offer us the opportunity to teach, learn, and grow. When we practice healthy ways of coping with stress, we are promoting self-care, self-kindness, and self-compassion.

What is self-compassion? Self-compassion is when we are kind to ourselves, accept our faults, recognize things as they are, and then care for ourselves. Self-compassion empowers us to be kinder, less judgmental, and more patient with ourselves and others. It enhances our ability to be more psychologically flexible and resilient. Practicing mindfulness strengthens our self-compassion by quieting the mind and allowing us to gain perspective while shifting our mindsets to a healthier and more positive outlook. Having clear thoughts and an open mind supports us in living a more peaceful and balanced life.

Our behaviors are guided by our motives and values. When we are mindful, we are able to observe our thoughts, and therefore can behave in a way that is in line with our values. Mindfulness techniques as well as creative expression can guide us in identifying our core values so that they become clear and defined.

Ask yourself the following question: Does the way I live my life reflect what I value and find most meaningful?

Finding meaning in our lives is one of the existential factors that all humans confront at some point in time. When we practice mindfulness, we learn to accept ourselves and others, while enhancing our self-compassion and awareness. We will then come to realize that the meaning of life is simply that - unconditional love for ourself and for others.

By incorporating creative expression into our lives, we allow ourselves the space to clarify our emotions and understand our behaviors. Creativity gives us the opportunity to align our actions with our values and priorities. If we are not working towards wholeness, we will find it difficult to give ourselves the chance to live fully and peacefully. Since we cannot avoid or escape pain, by learning to live a wholesome life with self-compassion, we can learn to accept our pain and discover ways to cope with it.

The following list of coping skills is divided into categories. These categories emphasize the importance of having a variety of tools to help us through difficult situations or feelings while teaching us how to deal with stress. While looking through the lists, keep in mind the following:

  • Experiment with different techniques so you can find a few that work best for you.

  • Try the techniques when you are feeling calm and relaxed so you can easily tap into them during times of anxiety.

  • It is best to incorporate these techniques into your daily routine.

  • Notice that none of these techniques involve social media.

Coping Skills to Practice for Life:

Practice on your own or with your child(ren)


  1. Walk, hike, or run

  2. Practice yoga or stretch

  3. Jumping jacks

  4. Run in place

  5. Put music on and dance

  6. Bounce or kick a ball

  7. Jump rope or hula hoop

  8. Squeeze a stress ball

  9. Go for a bike ride

  10. Play a family game of tag or basketball


  1. Meditate

  2. Listen to calming music

  3. Take deep breaths: breathe in on the count of 7 and out on the count of 7

  4. Think of a calm happy place

  5. Tense and relax your muscles

  6. Have a drink of cold water or some warm tea

  7. Close your eyes and count to 10 or backward from 100

  8. Read a book or magazine

  9. Light a candle

  10. Journal

  11. Take a bath or shower

  12. Blow bubbles

  13. Hug a stuffed animal

  14. Go outside. Sit and look at the clouds, close your eyes and listen to the sounds around you. Take a walk around your outdoor space and see what you can find: notice the changes that happen in nature.


  1. Color, draw, paint

  2. Write a poem: Mary Oliver is a poet to explore

  3. Make up a song

  4. Play an instrument

  5. Write about your thoughts or feelings. Art Activity: My Feelings Cube

  6. Play with play-doh

  7. Build with legos or blocks

  8. Play with different textures such as dry rice or shaving cream

  9. "I Am" affirmations Art Therapy activity

  10. Create a vision board

  11. Cut pictures out of magazine and create a story or make a collage

  12. Go outside and do a plein air painting which is the act of painting outside: Monet is an artist to explore.


  1. Play a game with the family

  2. Call/Facetime a friend or relative

  3. Cuddle or play with your pet

  4. Share your feelings with someone you trust

  5. Read a book

  6. Volunteer your time to help/serve others

  7. Having a connection with the community builds relationships: cub scouts, girl scouts, sports, music, arts, theater

Strategies to shift your mindset:

  1. Think of something positive

  2. Focus on one thing your are grateful for

  3. Close your eyes and think about something you are looking forward to

  4. Look at pictures or think about a happy memory

  5. Focus your energy on the present moment

  6. Think about something that makes you laugh

  7. Create a time capsule with your favorite artwork, homework, report cards, and pictures from the past year

  8. Practice reframes: Instead of “I am stuck at home” try “I am lucky that I am healthy and safe at home.” Reframing Art Therapy Activity

  9. Focus on what you can control. Create a list of ways to stay healthy: washing hands, eating healthy, getting exercise, etc. sometimes just having a plan can help us feel calmer and more in control.

Our ability to strengthen our coping skills and self-compassion allows us to create multiple ways to protect ourselves from adverse experiences that can erode at our self-efficacy and lead to self-judgment, isolation, rumination, and depression.

Suffering is a choice that we can choose to relinquish. We can take steps to reduce our pain which begins with acceptance and continues with self-development. Stress and pain are a part of life but we can overcome it through coping mechanisms and mindfulness. We can learn from it, grow, and live a resilient life with self-compassion.

Art Activity: How Plentiful is Your Life?

This art technique can be practiced with children to help them learn how to use a coping mechanism during stressful times. The earlier children learn how to cope with stress and adverse feelings, the more equipped they will be in managing their emotions and behaviors on their own. Together, let’s make this season a chance for us to model coping skills for our children. So let’s begin!

The following art invitation is designed to gain perspective and identify the coping skills that work for you. This is a chance for you to visualize and illustrate your support system. The result of this art activity will be a reference for you to use when adversity occurs and the things you can do to protect and strengthen your mental well-being.

For the spirit of Thanksgiving, we will use the theme of the cornucopia. Cornucopia or Horn of Plenty is a symbol of prosperity. The origin of the story is in Greek mythology. When Zeus was a child he was taken care of by Amalthea, a goat. One day while playing together, Zeus accidentally broke off one of Amalthea’s horns. By Zeus’s power, he made the horn as a meaning of eternal nourishment. The Horn of Plenty is a reminder of blessings, abundance, and gratitude.

  1. Print the PDFs below of the cornucopia and vegetable and fruit cut-outs.

  2. Use any kind of art materials (crayons, colored pencils, paint) to decorate the cornucopia, and then cut it out.

  3. Paste the cutout of the cornucopia on a separate sheet of paper.

  4. Color in the fruits and vegetables and include words of things, places, activities, or people that make you feel happy, supported, and make your life meaningful and plentiful. Cut them out and place them around the opening of the cornucopia.

Creative Expressions - Cornucopia cut-out
Download PDF • 1.06MB

Creative Expressions - Vegetable and fruit cutouts
Download PDF • 1.47MB

This activity is a great way to identify your go-to coping mechanisms while having a conversation with yourself or your child(ren) about self-compassion and gratitude. Have fun!

Please share your comments below and let us know the types of healthy activities you or your family do to cope with stress.


For more therapeutic activities and resources on how to incorporate Art Therapy into your life, read more from Lynn's Creative Expressions Blog.

Learn more about Art Therapy and Lynn Cukaj, Board Certified Art Therapist here:

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