Self-care and Supporting Loved Ones During the Holiday Season

The expectation of joy and togetherness during the holidays can often create an undue amount of pressure and emotional stress for everyone. This is especially true for those who struggle with mental illness. We can honor ourselves and our loved ones by giving ourselves permission to practice self-care and create boundaries. Remember it is never selfish to ask for what you need, and to take time for yourself; even, perhaps especially, during the holidays. The following is the new "Holiday Bill of Rights" developed by the ObtionB.Org initiative, which has a wealth of online resources for those struggling with illness, separated from family, or coping with loss.

Declare your "holiday bill of rights"

Choose how you want to spend the holiday

Even the most understanding friends and family may expect you to cook, show up with gifts, and generally exude holiday cheer. Talk to them ahead of time so they know how you’re feeling and what you’re up for this year. Let them know that you may change your mind, even at the last minute, or if you prefer to play it by ear. Research shows that we’re not actually that great at predicting how we’ll feel in the future, so leave yourself room for flexibility.

Do only what feels right

If you don’t feel like celebrating a holiday, don’t. Choose to honor old traditions if they comfort you. Think about starting new ones if you feel the need to do something different. To spark ideas for new traditions, think about activities you’ve always wanted to do, places you’ve always wanted to visit, or special meals you’ve always wanted to make. New traditions can create something to look forward to for future holidays.

Let people help

The holidays can come with long lists of errands to run or tasks to complete. Ask for and accept help with any of them. People who care about you will be happy to do something for you. You won’t ruin the holiday for others by leaning on them.

Feel however you feel

Holidays are filled with memories and traditions that can cause unexpected and shifting emotions. There’s no one right way to be. People who tell you how you “should” feel or act may mean well, but they often don’t know what’s best for you. Surround yourself with people who accept you as you are and try to limit your time with those people who don’t. If you’re being hard on yourself, try to go easy. Notice when you tell yourself how you “should” feel and try to replace those thoughts with acceptance of your feelings as they come.

Talk about it—or don’t

The question of whether and when to open up can be complicated. People will ask how you’re doing. With some friends and family, you can tell them how you’re really feeling without ruining their day. But not everyone will welcome honesty or be able to handle it calmly. In some moments, it may be easier to deflect the question than choose between opening up or giving a sugar-coated response. For instance, you can ask about their holiday plans. Consider coming prepared with a subject of conversation you can dive into easily.

Take care of yourself

Holidays are exhausting under normal circumstances—and they can be even more so when you’re facing hardship. It’s so important to take care of yourself. Research shows that self-care can make it easier to cope with stress, especially during this busy season. Eat well, stay active, try to sleep, and give yourself the opportunity to relax when you need it.

Hold on to hope

This holiday may not be the same as past ones. In fact, holidays may never quite look the way they did before. But they won’t necessarily always be this hard, either. You don’t know what the next year has in store for you, and you won’t always feel how you do right now. Watch for signs of the mental trap of permanence—that is, believing that things will never get better. If you find yourself falling into it, try replacing words like “always” with “sometimes” to remind yourself that the future doesn’t have to be like the past.

For more tips about supporting yourself and your loved ones this holiday season, visit