Ah, the holidays.

For some it’s the best time of the year; for others it’s their worst nightmare. It’s more than just the crowded stores, long lines, and expenses of gifts and parties. It’s judgemental family members, people you haven’t seen in a year (or longer), memories of holidays past, and the feeling of being alone if you’re one of the few who don’t have any of those things to worry about. For some of us, the coming of the holiday season just means we start holding our breath, trying to brace ourselves for what we believe is to come.

I’ve become one of those people, but I remember what it felt like to have holiday spirit. I used to call myself the Christmas fairy. What I remember most is the ability that I had to make other people feel better, if only for a few moments. Genuine enthusiasm and joy is infectious, and at its core the holiday season is really about showing your appreciation for others.

For some of us, holidays are difficult for a multitude of reasons, and it’s important to acknowledge that sometimes those reasons include mental illness and traumatic experiences. I don’t think it’s realistic to tell a person like that to just cheer up ‘because it’s the holidays’, just like it’s not realistic to tell someone with mental illness to just cheer up at any other time of the year.

But I do think that the benefits of spreading holiday cheer are overlooked. This is one of those cases where less really is more. There are things that those who love the holidays and wish that everyone around them could get on board can do to help. Assaulting someone with red and green, ugly sweaters, candy canes and Christmas music? Maybe not. That could seem like you’re just trying to irritate them on purpose. But what about just a thoughtfully written card sent to someone who you haven’t talked to in a while, not just to keep in touch but to truly tell them how special they are? A gift that they genuinely want or need instead of something generic, or when they’re not expecting one? Or even a different kind of surprise – taking someone skating who hasn’t been in years or who has always wanted to learn how, or showing up at someone’s door even though no one does that kind of thing anymore.

The possibilities are endless. You know your loved one best. Not all of those those suggestions will work for everyone. Maybe none of them will work for you. But you get the idea. Small, simple, personal touches mean a lot to anybody, but they mean even more to someone who is struggling. It’s easy to think that it’s not worth the effort, that you won’t make a difference, but the reality is that most of the time we all impact the world around us more than we think we do.

So why not at least try?

Happy holidays, everyone.

About Chelsea Ricchio

Chelsea Ricchio is the Creative Projects & Communications Assistant at Healthy Minds Canada. Previously, she worked for HMC as an intern during the summer of 2014. She is a fifth-year student at the University of Toronto, where she is the president of Active Minds at UofT, a mental health awareness student group. She will be graduating in June 2015. You can follow her on Twitter and check out her blog here.

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