With COVID-19 numbers surging all over the country, this holiday season feels very different: There are no Christmas parties, plays, or parades – no photo opps with Santa at the mall. But most devastating, by far, is the fact that many of us cannot be with our loved ones this year.
I’ve been down this road before, but not because of a global pandemic. Back when I was a sophomore in high school, my brother Jim was killed in a car accident. A few years later, my other brother, Tom, lost his decade-long battle with bipolar disorder. Every day, I missed them both profoundly, but during the month of December, my grief went into overdrive.
From finding their “Tommy” and “Jimmy” embroidered Christmas stockings while I unpacked decorations, to seeing other siblings in matching sweaters when I’d open an innocuous holiday card, I was constantly reminded that my brothers were gone. We used to get so annoyed when my parents would have us dress up to take our annual Christmas card photo; now we’d never get to take one with all of us together again.
Whether it’s your first holiday without a loved one, or your parents are getting divorced, or someone in your household is battling mental illness or addiction, it probably feels like every single family is perfect – except for yours. Know that you are not alone. If watching your all-time favorite Christmas movie suddenly makes you sad, know that you are not crazy. And if you get upset seeing your friends’ families happily celebrating the holidays on social media, know that it doesn’t make you a bad person.
Most importantly, know that one day, in the not-so-distant future, you’ll be having the happiest holiday of your life. You’ll look back on this year and feel a tremendous sense of pride thinking about how strong you were then, how strong you’ve become, and how your strength has inspired so many people.
But for this year, whether you’re dealing with family trauma, struggling to cope with how COVID-19 has impacted your life – or both – here are five things that helped me when I was heartbroken during the holidays. I hope that they can help you, too.
1) Take time for yourself.
It sounds so simple, but for a lot of us, it’s a challenge. Here’s the thing: You can’t always be everyone else’s cheerleader, especially when you need cheering up yourself. Chances are, you spend a lot of time and energy making other people happy, but you forget that you deserve to be happy, too. It took me a long time to learn that self-care is not selfish. So whether it’s putting your phone on “Do Not Disturb” and spending the next 20 minutes watching classic Vines on YouTube, or throwing on a podcast and going for a walk outside, carve out 30 minutes every day that are just for you.
2) Practice gratitude.
Grab a pen and paper and create a list of things that you’re grateful for right now. You can do this using the Notes app on your phone, too. Your list can (and should!) include anything and everything, from your favorite teacher’s name to your latest Netflix binge to the bangin’ burrito you just had for lunch. Keep it handy and update it every time you think of something you’re grateful for, and most importantly, re-read it when you’re feeling overwhelmed with sadness.
3) Take a social media timeout.
If your home life is fractured, seeing happy families celebrating the holidays on social media can totally suck. And if the pandemic impacted your parents’ job or income, it’s gonna be extra tough to see your peers posing with fancy gifts on Instagram. Spending time scrolling, when you’re already sad, is just gonna make you sadder. So take a break, temporarily delete a few apps if you need to, and remind yourself that social media is a carefully-curated highlight reel that only tells a fraction of the story.
4) Give back.
You might be unable to fix the things going on in your family, but it’s an amazing feeling to help others in need. While COVID-19 has curtailed many in-person volunteer opportunities, there are a lot of ways you can give back from home. Sort through your clothes, set aside items you’ve outgrown, and talk to a parent about donating them to a local charity. Or if you’re bored, answer some trivia questions on FreeRice.com. With every correct answer, you’ll be helping feed hungry people around the globe as part of the United Nations World Food Programme.
5) Remember that You’re So Beautiful NOW.
And it has nothing to do with the clothes you’re wearing or the number of followers you have. It’s because you are uniquely you, and there is no one else like you in the entire world. The sadness you’re feeling right now? Yeah, it sucks, and it’s not fair, but it’s temporary. Remember that it’s just one chapter of your story, and not the entire story. This particular chapter will shape your character and pave the way for the incredible ones that lie ahead.