Olivia Newport seascapeI just flipped through a magazine that is more than 200 pages long and purports to help me simplify the holidays and still celebrate with style.

Lots of pretty pictures! Probably not anything I would actually do. Maybe I’m even lazier than “simple.” Or maybe I know my limits.

Last week I never got around to getting something up on here on the blog. That happens from time to time. I’d had a much-enjoyed trip where the travel home went awry and was long and tiring. Then the next day I discovered I would have to take another, unplanned, trip the following week. In between I had an unexpected chance to submit a proposal. (I may or may not get to write that project, but the story captivated my imagination nevertheless.) Taking that second trip involved an 11-hour weather-related airline delay, getting me to bed five hours before I had to be up and at it for two long days of intense meetings.

And all through this busyness, for several weeks I’ve had an occipital neuralgia that doesn’t want to settle down despite various therapies. (It’s a kind of headache where a nerve in the back of the head gets irritated, usually for unknown reasons.)

I got home yesterday and said to my husband, “I’m just tired. I’m just so tired.” I turned on Netflix. Enough said.

I have no doubt that you could make a list describing your life that adds up to a similar level of fatigue or even worse illness. The holidays just around the corner might be a bright spot, a sore spot, or something else that makes you tired.

Self-care in moments like this is paramount.

Sometimes the choice is made for us. Frankly, I haven’t gotten a lot of writing done on my current novel, because travel and constant headache aren’t the greatest combination for creative productivity. When I could rest, that’s what I did.

If you can’t, you can’t, and there’s no shame in admitting it.

Sometimes, though, we need to make overt choices because we are the only ones who understand the full context of our lives and the energy certain activities or relationships demand.

Our mistake is in thinking we can do it all. It’s like looking at all those gorgeous magazine ideas and thinking that since they are all “simple,” they are all doable. Not.

None of us can do everything, especially at this time of year, so how do we decide? Here are some questions I ask myself.

1. Will this activity generate energy or deplete energy? The same activity–say, a party–will elicit a different response depending on temperament and emotional state, so there is no one right answer. Sometimes I decline an activity not because I would not enjoy it, but because I am conserving energy to meet a deadline while maintaining overall wellness. Someone else might think a party is just the thing to bring connections that improve wellness.

2. Will this tip the scale? We all know what it feels like to be loaded up with as much as we can carry. Sometimes taking on one new thing means we must intentionally let go of something else to keep the scale of wellness in balance. Gripping until our knuckles turn white while whole projects slide out of our grasp doesn’t keep us well. And more coffee is not going to fix this. We all must live within our limits, whether it be money, time, energy, or emotions.

3. Where is the joy in this choice? When I say joy, I don’t mean grinny, giggly happiness, though there is that. Joy may also come through service and sacrifice. Joy may come in noticing what someone else needs and helping to provide it. Joy may come in knowing I’ve done the right thing, even if it was difficult or tiring. Joy comes from the meaning the experience adds to my life and whether it draws me closer to God. As long as I don’t try to take on the world, using my time and energy for another person might also be an act of self-care.

• How do you take care of yourself in circumstances that threaten to overwhelm you?