Happy Holidays—or Not?

holiday stress

It’s the holidays! For some people, excitement and joy abound. For others, chaos, grief and conflict may occur. How you experience your holiday season connects to how you feel about yourself, about your feelings about seasonal or spiritual celebrations, and about the dynamics and relationship you have with family and friends. What can be a glowing, cherished time of year for some can be a slowly grinding disaster for others. And, everything in between.


Whether you are questioning your sexuality or gender, or whether you came out 20 years ago, your experience of the holidays will be unique to you. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could plan the kinds of experiences we hope to have and trust that they will happen? But, the reality is that we cannot control what happens or control any particular people outside of ourselves.

Our society, family, friends and everyone around us influence our moods, how we feel about ourselves, and how we experience the holidays. Many find the holidays extremely stressful if you plan to spend them around extended family whom you rarely see. The phase of your coming out to them may also be a variable that affects you.

Some people choose to come out to families during holidays, some bring home a new partner, or announce a pregnancy, or another change in status. For the LGBTQ community, there can be stories of horror and betrayal as well as stories about family members who embrace people with love and acceptance.

Isolation and loneliness can affect so many during the holidays. Some feel suicidal or violent during these times if they see no hope for acceptance and love inside their families or communities. Many people get more anxious or depressed during the holidays partly because they change their routines during that time, maybe traveling more or attending lots of events.

If you cope with stress by working out or eating healthy, continue those routines if at all possible. Also, try to rest well and get good sleep because without enough good sleep, we may feel even more moody, cranky or despairing. People who use drugs or alcohol to cope with stress might spend some time wondering whether these actions will help or possibly hurt them (or others) during the holidays.

Some people without families feel great sadness even more than usual, and couples can clash if there is a substantial difference between how their families interact with them. Where to go geographically can also be a source of conflict, adding stress. Being without a partner during the holidays can sometimes be highly upsetting or sometimes less distressing depending on the circumstances. There can be as many problems with the holidays as there are people but, we can do all we can to encourage favorable results.

Some reach out to single friends to include them in celebrations. Some set up community or friend meals and events as better options than going to see families, or being alone. You might ask people if you can join them during the holidays.

Most important to remember: we all need to take good care of ourselves and each other at holiday time. Socializing online may also help, and if you feel depressed, it may be a good idea to find a favorite non-profit organization, charity group, or activist group, and team with up with them to help others less fortunate than you, which can also help you feel better.

If you have an empathic counselor, a supportive friend, or a safe religious/spiritual consultant, seek them out during holiday times. There are also crisis call phone numbers and online resources to help those who struggle.

Families may also want to reach out to counselors, PFLAG, or other resources in order to provide their loved ones with support and nurturance – and to deal with their own feelings themselves, rather than acting them out with their loved ones.

I suggest that we all do whatever it takes (within reason) to help us stress less about and during the holidays. And, don’t feel selfish or self-centered about taking care of yourself! You may learn some new techniques for dealing with stress. Try to be as creative as possible. Joining a new yoga class, or attending a meditation retreat, or 12 step program can inspire you and relax you.

Also, remember to continue to take good care of yourself after the holidays. Once over, you have ample opportunity to explore what happened and how you are feeling, especially if you have had a terrible holiday. Take time to rest and enjoy yourself with whatever makes you happy, and maybe you can relax knowing you have another whole year before the 2020 Holiday season!

Barbara Sanders, LCSW, is a licensed Nashville psychotherapist. She may be reached at  DignityTherapyNashville.com, or [email protected], 615.414.2553