The Best (Non-Material) Gifts to Give Yourself This Holiday Season

Julia Malacoff
·6 min read

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As the holidays approach, it can feel like we’re all part of a massive gift-giving frenzy, where finding the perfect gift for every person in your life is the most important task on your to-do list.

Sure, it’s satisfying to pick out presents for others. But what if we spent a little more time thinking about gifting ourselves?

Turns out, therapists highly encourage shifting your gift-giving focus inward this year. “It's an act of self-care,” says Amanda Stemen, MS, LCSW. “It's an investment in ourselves. Also, we know best what we like and need, and sometimes it's easier to give that to ourselves than to hope that someone else will.”

Choosing to give yourself something this year can also minimize disappointment about not getting the gifts you’d hoped for. “It’s a great way to take back the holidays and make it about truly focusing on what you need, rather than waiting for others to make you happy,” points out Ibinye Osibodu-Onyali, LMFT at The Zinnia Practice.

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This is especially important during the trash fire that has been 2020. “This year has been filled with a lot of disappointment and fear. Many people have been separated from their loved ones due to the pandemic and are tired of the unknown,” Osibodu-Onyali says. And giving yourself a gift? It’s the perfect way to take some of the unknown out of the equation.

While material gifts can be wonderful, what’s most important is to gift yourself something that will actually improve your life. And often, those gifts aren’t material things. Here, mental health pros share the most meaningful gifts you can give yourself this holiday season to set yourself up for a better year ahead.

1. Commit to spending more time outside.

This is one of the simplest ways to boost your mental and physical health. “Spending time in nature heals our brains, decreases stress, improves our mood, and helps us to feel more connected,” Stemen says. Research shows that getting at least 120 minutes of outdoor time per week is associated with better health and wellbeing. If you break that down, it comes out to less than 20 minutes a day.

2. Take stock of your friendships. 

The holiday season is also a great time to evaluate who’s adding to your life in a positive way, and who’s not. “Think about your circle of friends and decide who you want to continue to associate with, and who you need to negotiate your relationship with,” Osibodu-Onyali advises. “If you don’t feel emotionally safe or respected around your friends, it's time to have a conversation about how you would like to be treated.”

3. Set boundaries. 

Similarly, being clear about your boundaries is one of the best gifts you can give yourself and others in your life.

Instead of waffling or saying yes to something you really don’t want to do, be clear about what you’re okay with and what you’re not. “Just because they ask doesn't mean you have to say ‘yes,’” says Danita Morales Ramos, PhD. “If you don't want to do it, simply say ‘no.’ No further explanation needed.”

Saying no to things that make you uncomfortable or that you don’t have time for also provides more opportunity to say yes to the things you really do want to do, which has its own obvious benefits. “Saying yes to that which brings you joy and no to that which brings you down allows you to more easily make decisions and navigate life in a way that best supports yourself and your development,” Stemen notes.

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4. Plan some time off for the coming months. 

With travel outlook uncertain for the foreseeable future, many are forgoing time off that they’d normally be planning far ahead of time. But just because you aren’t sure if you can travel doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take your PTO in the year ahead. So sit down and take some time to block off days off. “Plan at least two vacations for the year, even if they’re staycations,” recommends Morales Ramos. “If you don't, you likely won't make it a priority.”

5. Invest in self-love.

“Make the rest of the year about identifying what you love about yourself,” suggests Osibodu-Onyali. How to do that, exactly? Try writing out what you're grateful for about yourself, including which qualities you love. “Although it sounds cliche, the way you think about yourself, others, and the world can really go a long way in improving your mental health,” Osibodu-Onyali adds.

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6. Get in touch with your sexuality.

Or maybe you want to try focusing on a different kind of self-love. There’s never been a better time to understand your individual sexuality, argues Emily Jamea, PhD. ”With dating and other social obligations taking a back seat, use this as a time to learn more about your body and sexuality,” she suggests. That could mean finally investing in that sex toy you’ve been eyeing, experimenting with your partner, or just spending a little more time figuring out what you’re into. “In a time when so many of our regular pleasures are limited, self-pleasure is always available,” Jamea says.

7. Try an online workshop.

This is a great way to give yourself an experiential gift. “So many therapists have moved their trainings and workshops online,” Jamea says. For instance, you might take an online course on something you want to work on this year, like self-compassion, relationship building, or manifestation. “Alternatively, consider signing up for a workshop that will teach you more about a hobby that’s always interested you.”

8. Start talking to someone.

Therapy is one of the best ways you can invest in yourself, Osibodu-Onyali notes. “Therapy is a great way to reflect on your life, process difficult emotions, and work through past traumas that might still be affecting you.” And with all the virtual therapy options out there, you don’t even have to leave your house to get started.

9. Take up a creative hobby.

Whether it’s knitting, sewing, journaling, playing a musical instrument, or something else (we could go on… there are so many options!), this is an ideal way to ensure you enjoy your alone time in the months to come. There’s also something about keeping your hands and/or brain busy that’s therapeutic. “Making space for creative expression will give you the room to process your thoughts and emotions in a healthy way so that negative energy won't get stored in your body,” Stemen explains.

10. Skip New Year’s resolutions.

“Do not make a New Year's resolution,” Morales Ramos advises. “It's a tradition that doesn't work and one of the reasons people become stressed after the holidays.” The upshot: If you’ve given yourself any of the gifts on this list, you’re well on your way to a healthier, happier year next year.