Anxiety About the Holidays?

Let's make holiday stressing a holiday blessing.

Posted Dec 16, 2016

It’s upon us! Some love the holidays and make elaborate plans, but many dread the expectations of being the "perfect" gay friend or family member. Children make the focus easier, but for those who don’t have kids, expectations and resentments can be endless.

Common scenarios that come up in my therapy office include uncertainty about where to spend the holidays — with family or friends — and how to break the news to those who don’t make the cut without hurting their feelings. Family often assumes that those without children will spend the time with them no matter what. 

And then of course there’s the question of who gets gifts and how much to spend. Some families expect “gay Uncle Johnny” to buy gifts for all of the nieces and nephews, even if he isn’t close to them. Maybe the assumption is that he has more money and fewer specific attachments than other members of the family? Ugh.

This year, Steve, a 52-year-old client, decided to do things a little differently, something that he has been working towards for a few years. At this point all he needed was some encouragement and a little coaching leading up to the festivities.

Steve decided he would no longer buy his nephews gifts for Christmas. The nephews are all in their mid-to-late 20's—and they never reciprocate, say thank you, or keep in touch during the year. Even so, the expectation has always been that Steve will arrive with gifts for all.  Steve’s new plan, however logical, makes him feel guilty. So, I have suggested that he write to everyone beforehand and let them know about the change of routine. Just a light, jolly note so they won’t be surprised and he can avoid the discomfort of feeling compelled to "explain" in person. There is immense relief in this simple adjustment for him. He is taking charge, and making space for something new to happen. Merry Christmas!

Then there is the anxiety that gay men often feel about keeping up with others, especially other gay men who may have more money and love to really do up the holidays. Joe speaks about the delight he experiences in visiting his friends who perfectly decorate their house and seem to celebrate in storybook fashion. He loves the company and environment, but he also admits to some feelings of “not enoughness.” 

And then there are so many folks who have no significant party invitations or plans, and who dread the anticipated sense of loneliness.  Another client, Chris, has decided to use his social media connections to reach out and ask others to spend some quality time with him over the holidays. He can’t help but worry that he will seem like a loser, but in the end he is delighted by the supportive greetings he receives—as well as the multiple invites. We all seem to think that everybody else has more and better plans than we do! 

Rather than living inside our fear and anxiety, we might consider taking a chance this year. We have only a short time to make this fresh choice! How about taking charge by reaching out and being the one who organizes something? Sometimes, smaller intimate gatherings are a great relief for people. Making our home special doesn’t have to mean making it fancy. Imagine your invitation arrives just in time to yank someone out of his own holiday depression! What a gift to you both.  

Good company, easy laughter, emotional generosity...these are the real gifts of the holidays. Your nieces and nephews don’t need another “thing”—most of us don’t. Friendship, conversation, a home-cooked meal? Everyone can benefit from sharing in these moments. Less really is more.

C'mon folks, let's ditch the Grinch attitude, let's take inventory and ask ourselves what we really want this year. Then let's all make it happen. Last minute — and perfect timing!