New research shows that many people faced major challenges in 2020 and expect the holidays to feel harder than in previous years—but also that people are providing more meaningful support to friends and family than they have in the past. The research is part of #OptionBThere for the Holidays, an annual program that helps people show up for each other during what can be a challenging time of year for those experiencing loss or hardship. Along with the research—which shows that simple, heartfelt gestures can go a long way—OptionB.Org is providing research-backed tips and suggestions for supporting others in small but meaningful ways during this season.
“During this difficult year, everyone is living their own Option B,” said Facebook COO and OptionB.Org founder Sheryl Sandberg. “We know this holiday season may be particularly hard, especially if you’re struggling with illness, job loss, or simply separated from loved ones. But in painful times, we’ve shown up for each other. And by helping others, we’re also building resilience ourselves. We’re stronger and better prepared to face whatever tough challenges are ahead.”
The new report also underscores the unique challenges brought forth in 2020. According to the survey data, 8 in 10 people experienced a major challenge in 2020, such as a mental health struggle, job loss, the death of a family member, or serious illness. People of color and young people were especially likely to face hardship: Black survey respondents were most likely to experience the death of a family member, Latinx respondents were most likely to experience job loss or financial insecurity, and people aged 18-35 were most likely to struggle with mental health issues.
But amid these challenges, people have also reached out to help each other. Fully 90 percent of people have provided meaningful support to someone else this year, such as calling or texting regularly, sending a gift or care package, or helping with errands and chores. More than 60 percent say they’ve provided more of this type of support than they have in the past. Many also say they received support from unexpected sources. This outpouring of peer-to-peer support indicates that the collective struggles of 2020 have strengthened our connections to each other and helped us build strength and resilience. And the new research suggests that we’ve built individual resilience this year, too—7 in 10 people say they are better able to handle new challenges as a result of managing the challenges they faced in 2020.
As we continue to lean on each other over the holidays, simple, heartfelt gestures may make the biggest difference. More than half of people say the most meaningful thing someone could do for them at the holidays is just to reach out, whether that’s by calling or texting regularly or checking in with an occasional “thinking of you.” And almost a quarter say that someone acknowledging their struggles or validating their feelings is what would help the most.
For anyone who’s wondering what they can do to support their loved ones this season, OptionB.Org recommends starting with the following five tips:
- Change up your holiday greetings. For many people, “happy holidays” will ring hollow this year. Instead, say something like “I’m thinking of you this holiday season.” Or ask an open-ended question, such as “how are you feeling with the holidays coming up?” Even if you don’t feel like you have the perfect thing to say, just starting the conversation can make a world of difference.
- Instead of asking if you can “do anything,” just do something. If someone you love is struggling, don’t wait for them to tell you how you can help. Just step up with a simple gesture, such as mailing a card, leaving groceries on their porch, or dropping by to shovel their driveway.
- Take care of their loved ones. Sometimes, the best way to show someone you care is to support the people they love. That might mean dropping off a box of books and toys for their kids, or helping them assemble a care package for a friend or relative they’ve been worried about. These acts can go a long way toward showing a friend or family member you’re on their team.
- Make plans for next year. Talk with your loved one about something you’re excited to do together in 2021, and put a date on your calendars even if it’s tentative. Having something to look forward to will make it easier to get through hard moments during the holidays.
- Don’t try to pour from an empty cup. To show up for others, you need to take care of yourself. Make time for activities you enjoy, and try journaling as a way to process your own feelings about the holidays this year.
According to members of OptionB.Org’s online community – which provides peer-to-peer support for people dealing with hardship – small acts of kindness like these are often the most impactful. “When my husband died and I experienced tough days, the thing that meant the most to me was when a friend reached out to say ‘Hopefully tomorrow will be better,'” said Laurie, one community member. “It was a simple gesture, but his words were full of hope. I know that kind of support will be meaningful this holiday season, too.”
Another community member, Mark, shared this story: “Two months into the pandemic when I quit my job to homeschool my daughter, we got an unexpected knock at the door. My daughter’s preschool teacher had cooked us a big meal, and dropped it off at our door alongside school materials with a simple note that said ‘I’m going to be here to support you, even if from afar’. That support let me know we’d be OK.”