Managing Holiday Stress

Focus on the fact that after we
get through these potentially volatile exchanges with family, we get to return to our amazing queer lives.  

BY BRENT HEINZE

During the holiday season we often share time with people that we may not get to see frequently.  

For some, this is our biological families with extended groups of other relatives.  While some of us grew up with a relatively good home life full of hugs and support from our parents, siblings, and other family members—others came out of an environment that was more difficult, making being around family during the holidays emotionally and psychologically challenging.  

Let’s face it—very few of us grew up in a household where being gay was actively embraced.  Most of us have at least one relative who makes us cringe when speaking to them.  When we get around our family, some individuals may be trying to “make America great again” and discuss topics focused on “those people.”  To say these people and situations are tough can be a severe understatement, but there are ways to better cope with these encounters so you can survive them and return to your fabulous life full of open-mindedness, love, and acceptance.

Although we may not be able to avoid these uncomfortable, tense, and stressful family situations, there are some things we can do to reduce our anxiety and desire to either run away or flip over a dining room table like one of the Jersey housewives.  

We always hope that people would have the common sense to not bring up polarizing topics like politics, religion, or sexuality in mixed company, but we all know that it is not necessarily the case with some groups.  Try to remember that the holiday season is more about love than aggression.  It is difficult or impossible to change the minds of those people who have rigid viewpoints that generally go against our efforts to create a society of equality while embracing diversity.  There is nothing wrong with standing your ground or having a healthy debate.  Realize that ignorance and bigotry are rarely changed by logical arguments.  Try not to cause World War III before, during, or after a family meal.  Hopefully there will be other family members that will jump in before conversations get too heated to help drop the temperature before it boils over.  You can absolutely request that certain topics may want to be avoided to maintain a light-hearted family exchange.  

If you feel that tensions will run high, you may want to consider staying in a hotel or with friends instead of with family.  There may be opportunities to get away for some recuperation in between family sessions to regain your composure or sanity.  

Most importantly, focus on the fact that after we get through these potentially volatile exchanges with family, we get to return to our amazing queer lives.  

Although family stress can be uncomfortable, overwhelming, or just plain annoying, it is only temporary.  When we return home, we can re-engage with people who will not judge us for our “lifestyle choices,” but may still question our fashion sense or taste in friends.  Thankfully it is common in our culture to create a chosen family, hopefully full of dynamic people with quirky personalities.  They offer love and support beyond where our family of origin may have failed us.  They can also provide different types of friendship and care in our lives.  

Regardless of who you are around for the holidays, hopefully these times are shared with people you love and you find many things to feel grateful for during your celebrations.


 Brent Heinze has a master’s degree in clinical psychology and works as a life coach in Southern California (Brent@BeginTheShift.org).