The holiday season has always been one of my favorite times of the year. I find myself smiling when I think about how chaotically special my loud family is on Christmas Eve, the sense of peace I get stepping into my parent’s house and watching Hallmark movies with my mom, and the nights I reconnect with friends from high school that make me feel like I’m 16 again in the best possible way. This has always been what makes the holidays so special: being around the people I love. But, it’s also what used to make this season so difficult.

Like many people, I can be extremely self-conscious — and the holidays tend to bring that out the worst. Seeing people I haven’t in a while always makes these feelings resurface. Have I lost weight? Gained weight? How is my skin looking? Do I look tired and overwhelmed?

It seems every winter when I should be excited about decorating my tree or baking cookies, I’m agonizing over how I think others will perceive me.

Over time, December has become such an anchor in my life. It’s so easy to think back to exactly what I was doing years prior. Facebook and other social media platforms remind me of the events I went to and the things I did by resurfacing old photos and memories each year. And while it can be fun to reminisce, it becomes all too easy to compare.

I find myself constantly questioning if I’ve changed positively enough in the past year. When I walk into holiday parties, I wonder if people will immediately take notice of how much happier I seem, or if one look will tell them I’ve fallen off the deep end. It seems every winter when I should be excited about decorating my tree or baking cookies, I’m agonizing over how I think others will perceive me.

I can logically recognize that my family and friends love me, while still irrationally believing they’re judging me behind my back. I can also understand that it’s ultimately my own thoughts that are causing me pain, not others, but it doesn’t change the fact that it makes the season hard.

But this year — as much as everyone has said it — things truly are different. I’m not going to see my extended family or my old friends, and it breaks my heart. I miss them in a way I didn’t know was possible. So while the past year has been a time of loss in so many aspects, it’s also been the year I’ve gained perspective.

I’m not worried about how I look this holiday season not because I’m not seeing anyone, but because I’ve realized seeing them is about so much more than my physical appearance. I’m not concerned about what I achieved or didn’t, because I made it through to December with my health and my family’s health — a statement that so many people can’t say.

I want to believe that next year I’ll get to see the people I care about, but regardless of when that time comes, I know I’ll just be grateful to be in their company. It won’t be about what I look like or don’t, a lesson I needed to learn a long time ago. And this new mindset truly is the best gift I could’ve been given this holiday season.

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