Even if things are going well, there’s a lot to do: presents to buy, cards to mail, schedules disrupted by fun stuff that somehow can feel a little like a burden. And if things aren’t going well – you’re alone, you’re broke or unemployed – the holidays can be a real setup for unhappiness. No wonder that stress, anxiety and depression run rampant this time of year.
Stop and take a breath. First, know that if you’ve got the blues, you’ve also got lots of company. Feeling melancholy during the holidays doesn’t make you some sort of freak, even if everyone else looks happy and …gay. One of the things that make the holiday blues more painful is feeling like you shouldn’t feel that way! This doesn’t mean seasonal stress is something insignificant. Far from it. Here are some suggestions:
Manage your expectations. Decide for yourself what’s important and set priorities for yourself. Pace yourself. Do the holidays have spiritual meaning for you? Celebrate that, not trite holiday glitz.
Don’t try to shop yourself happy. Overspending yourself into debt is like having a hangover that lasts for months. Making a budget and sticking to it is giving yourself a present!
Practice good mental hygiene. Nostalgia is fine up to a point, but this is no time to dwell on past disappointments. Practice cultivating a grateful heart. Focus on what you have, not what you don’t have. Look for ways to help out someone who is less fortunate – serving meals at a soup kitchen or visiting a nursing home, for example.
Watch your diet, sleep and exercise patterns. Watch the carbs. Don’t skip your exercise routine; exercise helps you stay emotionally resilient. And don’t drink too much. Drinking and party drugs can deplete your brain’s supply of serotonin, making you more vulnerable to depression.
Be with people. Touch base with friends you’ve not heard from in a while. Spend time with people who care about you. If you know others who will be by themselves, consider having a potluck dinner together.
Be alone and love it. What would pampering yourself look like? You might catch up on your reading. Schedule a massage or a day for yourself at a spa. If it would make you happy, you can decorate the hell out of your house or apartment even if no one else will see it!
Set boundaries with your family. Many of us love our families, but for others the trip to the ancestral home is a test of our sanity. Assert yourself. Don’t let others make demands on you if compliance will lead you to feel resentful. If you find yourself feeling attacked or disrespected, remember that you’re a grown-up now. No one can make you feel small without your cooperation. Don’t give in.
One of the joys of life as a gay human being is that we get to be creative in how we design and structure our lives.
We don’t let others impose their expectations on us during the rest of the year – why should we let it happen during this season?
Be imaginative, take great care of yourself, and celebrate the gift of life.
John R. Ballew, M.S. an author and contributor to GAYTWOGETHER, is a licensed professional counselor in private practice in Atlanta. He specializes in issues related to coming out, sexuality, relationships and spirituality. If you have any questions or comments you can submit them directly to GAYTWOGETHER or John R. Ballew, M.S. - www.bodymindsoul.org.