For many people struggling emotionally, with their personal lives, or with mental illness, the holiday season can be a source of major anxiety. Because of this, Kesha wrote an essay about the holidays for TIME in which she encourages others with mental health issues to take care of themselves this holiday season. With so many people living with depression, anxiety, addiction issues, and fraught family relationships, it’s important to remember that sometimes the best gift you can give your loved ones is a healthier, authentic you.
The "Praying" singer believes that the pressure people feel to be merry and to be generous with their time, money, and thoughtfulness, can have the opposite effect on people going through a tough time. "All those plans and expectations of joy can turn tougher than they sound," she writes. "This is especially true for those of us who struggle with mental illness." As a result Kesha, who has been open about her struggles with an eating disorder, has developed her own way of coping with her anxiety around the holidays. She writes:
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.
The Grammy-nominated artist developed this mantra after her personal troubles came to a head one December. The pop star writes, "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." She, like many people who suffer with a mental health condition, relied on a routine to keep her functioning. But, routines go out the window around Christmas and Hanukkah with days off work, family gatherings, and special events. According to Kesha, it was this change of routine that affected her the most:
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.
This phenomenon can also extend to those who might otherwise be stable in their mental health. Studies show that there's a sharp rise in depression and anxiety around the holidays. One of the reasons many people feel an increased feeling of despair around the holidays is the focus on family and togetherness. As Kesha mentions in her essay, she will be missing a "beloved member of my family" who recently died. If you are someone who has complicated interpersonal relationships, or if you recently lost a loved one, like Kesha, you might feel that sense of loss more acutely during December.
In addition to her mantra, Kesha offers some more advice for dealing with that extra load of stress. Like many experts, she encourages her readers to go out for a walk in nature and to talk with a trusted friend or family member. "Just do whatever helps you calm down and gives you a break from the stress," she advises. That includes maybe declining to go to a family gathering "in favor of some personal time." Her personal favorite method of relieving her stress? Using meditation apps on her phone.
Ultimately, whether you're currently in treatment for a mental health condition, or if you just really find yourself relating to the lyrics of "Blue Christmas," maybe it's time to give yourself the gift of self care. Kesha argues, "It’s not your responsibility to try to make the whole world happy." She adds, "It’s just another day — don’t put unrealistic expectations on it, and don’t beat yourself up." That's something we all should keep in mind.
If you or someone you know has an eating disorder and needs help, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline at 1-800-931-2237, text 741741, or chat online with a Helpline volunteer here.