For me the holiday season starts when I see that first airing of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” on local television. Just hearing Vince Guaraldi’s piano composition “Linus and Lucy” puts me in the holiday spirit. However, I admit that this was not always the case. Like for many of us in the LGBT community, the holidays can be extremely stressful and bring back to light potential family contentions.
There was a period in my life when I hadn’t been home for Christmas in years. The excuse was always that the holidays stress me out or that work needed additional coverage — which isn’t untrue. The bigger truth was I didn’t want to spend time with my family. If your family is anything like mine, Christmas is when everyone comes together and airs the grievances they’ve been holding onto all year. However, the change for me came the year that after all the grievances, my family had teary expressions of love and forgiveness.
There is often so much pressure to be joyous and to share “the most wonderful time of the year.” It can be especially hard for those of us who feel wounded by various ghosts of the holiday season. Family dynamics can be hard at the best of times — during the holiday season it can reach a torturous crescendo. Each situation is different. In my case it took a significant shift of mindset to get to that point, and many of us are not in a place where our families are ready to love and forgive. Regardless of your situation, here are a few things to keep in mind when dealing with the stresses of the holiday season.
Remember you are not alone. Mostly, our day-to-day lives are lived with people who care for and support us emotionally. We’ve created our own families. We’ve created routines that encourage and nurture us. We’ve developed our own beliefs. The holidays can totally upset that. Even the mentally healthiest among us can be challenged by relatives and parents, regardless of acceptance or support.
So, the first step is to recognize this and beware of your anxiety. Take a moment to step back and breathe. We have all seen the multiple posters that read, Keep Calm and Carry On — now is the time to put that into practice. The holidays are a temporary stressor. Most of us can survive something for a few days. Knowing when it will end will help you in strategically getting yourself through it.
Finally, if all else fails, give yourself an out and walk away. If you must spend an extended amount of time with family, work some down time into the schedule. Removing yourself from the situation can be vital, and it can be done gracefully. “I just need some alone time” is something that almost anyone will respect. Regardless of what you decide to do, it is important to remember that people are going to think what they think.
No matter how hard I try, my thoughts and actions may not change that in the brief amount of time I spend with my family during the holiday season. I like to focus on the part of the season I love, and at always starts with “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Find what you love about the season and hold it close — no matter the situation, your relatives can’t take that away from you.