The holidays are supposed to be a season of joy and cheer, but for some of us, they can be the hardest time of the year. TIME partnered with OptionB.Org, Sheryl Sandberg’s initiative, to commission essays from influential people who have struggled themselves about what has helped them during difficult holiday seasons in the past. In these pieces, as well as at optionb.org/holidays and #OptionBThere, you’ll find actions big and small that you can take to help yourself and others find moments of joy.
The holiday season is supposed to be the most festive and fun time of the year but sometimes it can quickly become a stressful and emotional time. All those plans and expectations of joy can turn tougher than they sound. This is especially true for those of us who struggle with mental illness — be it depression, anxiety, addiction or any other challenges.
The holidays break your routine. Sometimes, you’re forced to spend time with family you rarely see and don’t always get along with. Or maybe you’re alone when everyone else is with family. Or you are off from work, with more time to think troubling thoughts. Or you are at work and can’t be with those you love. Or you are thrust into party situations that tempt your demons. Or you aren’t invited to those tempting parties.
In so many ways, the holidays can throw you off your game — and that can shake you. When you have a routine, it’s easier to manage whatever mental struggles you may be faced with, and when that routine is broken, it can trigger things you may not be ready to face. I know it has for me. It was during the holidays when I hit a low moment and with the help of my mother decided to seek help for my eating disorder.
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Around the holidays, I often feel like I’m supposed to be everywhere, with everyone — all with the added guilt that it’s the season of giving. To fight this, I’ve developed a mantra: It’s not selfish to take time for yourself.
Take a walk in nature. Talk to a friend you trust or a therapist. Sit out one of the holiday gatherings in favor of some personal time. Just do whatever helps you calm down and gives you a break from the stress. Download one of the many meditation apps for your phone. I particularly like “Calm” and “End Anxiety.”
It’s not your responsibility to try to make the whole world happy. Especially since sometimes it’s not that easy to make yourself happy, either — even with all the celebrations and gifts and seasonal decorations, foods and drinks, which can only do so much. So don’t ask yourself things like “It’s almost Christmas, why am I not happy?” That can turn into a shame cycle. It’s just another day — don’t put unrealistic expectations on it, and don’t beat yourself up.
Trying to spend all of your time pleasing everyone else is not only exhausting — it’s impossible. And you know what? If you take a little time for yourself, you will actually be much better company for those around you.
This holiday season, I will be missing a beloved member of my family who passed away recently, but I have to remember to be thankful for the family that I do have and careful not to fall into an existential crisis downward spiral. And most importantly just remember to give yourself a break!
For more essays about finding happiness during the holidays, read:
- Katie Couric, on how grief teaches you to have empathy for those celebrating beside you.
- Patton Oswalt, on conquering holiday loneliness.
- Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly, on how tragedy can strengthen resolutions.
- Robin Roberts, on changing traditions in sickness and grief.
- OptionB.Org’s collection of personal stories and advice.