6 Tips to Help Gay Men Enjoy the Winter Holidays

by | Gay Mental Health

The winter holidays can be a mixture of fun and stress (and every other emotion) for a lot of people. But for gay men, there can be some specific challenges around family, traditions, and food at this time of year. Pair existing holiday stress with divisive politics and a global pandemic, and this winter might seem pretty bleak.

Luckily, there are things you can do to identify stressors ahead of time, and have a plan to get more enjoyment out of your winter holidays.

Gay men have long turned to chosen family as a means of support, particularly when families of origin have not been accepting. This type of creative resilience is our starting point: how can you take a traditional holiday concept and modify it to meet your needs? With a bit of creativity, you can transform a gloomy winter into something special.

On that note, here are 6 tips to help you get started with enjoying the winter holidays this year:

1. Infuse the holidays with a “holigay” twist

For some gay men, the winter holidays can highlight issues with family who are not accepting of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Being upset and stressed because you don’t feel fully accepted by someone else makes a lot of sense. So to counteract this issue, it can help to find ways to let your full self shine through. You can do this by yourself, or with supportive people in your life. For example, you could:

➡️ Decorate gingerbread people with rainbow sprinkles or icing.

➡️ Wear some colourful and comfortable clothing while you curl up to watch a winter movie with a cup of hot chocolate.

➡️ Make a playlist of your favourite pop queens’ holiday music and have a dance party of one or more.

This is an opportunity to celebrate and affirm your identity–try and find ways to let your light shine.

2. Set boundaries

It’s both healthy and important to set boundaries with people in your life. This means staying true to your comfort level and values.

➡️ You’re allowed to tell friends and family that you don’t want to discuss certain topics.

➡️ You don’t need to engage with family who are homophobic, transphobic, and/or racist.

➡️ You can say no to events that put you at risk for transmission of COVID-19. Of course, this has to be balanced with the need for social contact. However, know that it’s okay to resist pressure to gather in large groups and instead follow the guidance of your local public health officials. Try using virtual means to connect whenever possible.

3. Create new meaning and traditions

Many places are in lockdown or being affected by restrictions due to a second wave of COVID-19. This can be especially tough if you’re prevented from doing what you usually do during the winter holidays.

However, the reason we enjoy traditions is not always just the tradition itself, but also its meaning. The great news is that humans are meaning-making creatures. We can ascribe meaning to almost anything. So think about creating a new tradition for yourself with a special meaning.

For example:

➡️ Make a special meal or treat that uses traditional holiday flavours like cinnamon, cranberry, orange or peppermint.

➡️ Take a bubble bath by candle light.

➡️ Tap into a sense of playfulness by picking up a sled and giving it a whirl at a local hill.

➡️ Have a winter-themed jigsaw puzzle going on your coffee table.

➡️ Try an outdoor winter activity like snowshoeing.

Whatever you do, find something new that feels special. You can make it a new “winter thing” that you do.

4. Be mindful of how traditions impact you

Traditions like giving presents can be an automatic thing you do around the holiday season, without any question. But are there some traditions that you actually don’t enjoy? Take a moment and think about what traditions that you might have been dreading this year, and even which ones you were relieved got cancelled due to COVID-19. Although COVID-19 has added stress to the holidays for a lot of people, it may also be a chance to try new things and ditch old traditions which were impacting you negatively.

5. Know that it’s okay to slow down during the winter

2020 has undoubtedly been a tough year. With darker days and drearier weather, it’s common for many people to have lower energy levels in the winter. And this energy change it totally okay! Conserve your energy for those activities that are most important to you, while saying “no” to activities that stress you out and drain you.

Saying “no” can be difficult. Particularly in a society where you’re expected to maintain a high level of productivity, and being “busy” is equated with being “good.” This dynamic can be especially difficult to break for some gay men, who might use staying busy or overachieving as a way to bolster their sense of self-worth. 

Even if you don’t have the privilege of taking time off during the holidays, try and respect your need for rest and relaxation. Check out this infographic for some easy ways to slow down and take care of yourself even if you have limited time.

6. Give yourself permission to enjoy the foods of the season

I’ll let you in on a secret: you’re allowed to enjoy the foods of the season without guilt (you’re even allowed to eat second helpings). On the other hand, you can also turn down an offer of food by saying “thanks, that looks absolutely delicious, but I’m full / I’ll pass / maybe later.”

One way to enjoy holiday foods more is by practicing mindful eating. This means savouring each bite by focusing on the taste, texture, smell, sound, and visual of what you’re eating. Taking this approach can help get the most amount of pleasure out of your food.

Keep discussions of exercising, calorie counting or losing weight out of your meals. These conversations will typically induce guilt or shame, make you feel self-conscious, and take away from the pleasure of eating.

While challenges with body image and eating probably won’t go away instantly, start small with some of the ideas above, and see if you can find little moments of change to start.

If you eat 3 meals a day, that’s 1,095 meals per year. You’re allowed to eat foods for a few of those meals that bring you pleasure and increase your mental wellbeing.

Bonus tip: try to be more compassionate with yourself this holiday season

Are you groaning internally because of how often you’ve heard this tip? I get it, self-compassion seems to be touted as the solution to everything. But there’s a reason this tip is everywhere: it works. An easy way to think of self-compassion is that it’s simply a sensitivity to your own suffering, and a commitment to try and alleviate it. This includes when you’re trying out new things over the winter holidays.

Give some of the tips in this list a try and see what works for you. If something doesn’t work, that’s okay. Try again later, or try something else. Everyone is different, so what works for one person might not work for someone else.

If you’re having a hard time over the winter holidays and would like some additional support, click the button below to reach out. I’d be glad to chat and see if I can help. 🙂

Blog Bio Jordan Gruenhage Canada Gay Counsellor Therapist

Jordan Gruenhage

MA, CCC, RCC

As a counsellor at The Centre for Gay Counselling, Jordan excels at helping fellow gay men understand their emotions better, heal from past trauma, and grow their sense of self-worth so that they can enjoy living fully as themselves. He believes that gay men have inherent worth, and that they deserve to live fulfilling lives. Interested in working with Jordan? Click the button below to get started.