Karamo Brown has also been frustrated during the pandemic. The culture expert on Netflix’s Queer Eye has been unable to work since the coronavirus shut down filming months ago.
But that hasn’t stopped him from trying to spread a little holiday cheer. Emotional wellness and positivity are important to him — he’s not just a TV star, but also a licensed mental health counselor. (Fun fact: He grew up in Florida.)
Brown will be hosting Karamo’s Holiday Spectacular on Instagram Live on Dec. 17, welcoming surprise guests and giving away $75,000 to the winners of the Zelle Send Cheer contest. Ahead of his virtual event, he chatted with the Tampa Bay Times over Zoom about tips for managing holiday stress and conflict during a pandemic.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
I want to start with Thanksgiving, because I think we all probably learned a lot from our first pandemic holiday. What worked for you when it came to planning your celebration? And what will you do differently for your pandemic Christmas?
I definitely believe that everyone should try to stay at home the best they can. If you don’t have to travel, stay put there. I think 35 percent of people are engaging in virtual holidays and that’s such a great thing to be able to connect with people virtually. There’s ways of making sure that during the holidays, especially now when we know so many people are going through so much, making sure that you’re really trying to bring cheer. You know, like staying away from the harder political conversations. I think that there’s going to be a space for that in 2021.
As the culture expert on Queer Eye, what ideas do you have for our readers who still want to do some meaningful holiday activities in a safer way?
I think it’s about what can you do for other people.... Like instead of getting someone gifts they may not use, how about asking them if there’s a bill that you can pay for. I’ve been writing letters during this pandemic, which I didn’t do before. It feels so good to get that surprise letter back. It just takes you out of the monotony of what we all know — Instagram, emails, text — and I think it’s really great when you connect in other ways. It’s about being creative.
What are some coping strategies that you’ve developed to handle the stress of this year in your own life?
First of all, forgiving myself. A lot of us are not patient with ourselves. I tell people all the time comparison is the thief of joy. It will make you start thinking about like, “Why am I not back at work? Why is my family not all doing Zoom calls every other day?” So you’ve got to release that and understand that what you’re doing is enough.
And then secondly, I think we all have the ability to ask for help. But you know, as a culture, sometimes you feel ashamed, or intimidated, to ask for help. If you’re the strong person in your friend group or your family, people never check on you. So check in on your strong friends, check in with those people who always are giving, always are working, and make sure they’re okay.
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It’s such an isolating time. We’re not connecting with people in the ways that we used to, and I know that some people aren’t as comfortable talking about mental health. What advice would you have for those who notice someone struggling right now?
If you have the inclination that someone could need you to reach out, 100 percent of the time they probably need you to reach out. And understand that every conversation doesn’t have to be a deep conversation. You can give people the authority to tell you what and when they want to talk.
Sometimes I feel like people think just because I’m the person who always focuses on mental health, every conversation I have is always about living a better life and all that stuff. And it’s not. I get with my best friend and we talk about the [Real] Housewives, we talk about Megan Thee Stallion, body-ody-ody-ody. We talk about all of these things, but we don’t always focus on the heavier topics. And then there’s also a space when sometimes we do. You have so much going on that sometimes you just need a release. You just need someone who’s going to make you laugh for 30 minutes.
In your memoir, you write a lot about managing internal and external conflict. How can our readers mediate their own internal conflicts that are happening this season? Or if they are with loved ones and something comes up, mediate those conflicts that are external?
When we’re talking about internal conflicts, the first thing you have to do is you have to acknowledge what’s going on. What happens is that when it’s always in your head, it becomes very big, it becomes darker, it becomes a lot less manageable. So the first thing I suggest to people is to write it down. Is it that you’re struggling with the fact that you’re not in a relationship? Is it you’re struggling with your finances? Or you’re struggling with something from your past, your childhood?
I always tell people when it comes to your mental health journey, you don’t have to rush it. If it was your physical health journey, no one would put you in the gym and be like, “You got to lift 100 pounds the first time.” And so the same thing is for your mental health journey. You don’t have to lift it all at once.
Then as you write it down, ask yourself, “What are the things that I have the capacity to fix within these conflicts? And what are the things that I need help from someone else?”
And then when it comes to external conflict, I think a big key word is empathy. As much as you want to have people hear you, you have to be willing to hear them. But in hearing, you have to understand that you can’t solve everything at once. This is a big thing that I see in people who are in relationships. I say to them all the time, if you are with your partner, and you’re having an argument about something or you want to bring up something, don’t let two or three other topics bleed into the one. People will start saying like, “I want to talk to you about the fact that you’re not taking me out on dates during this COVID.” And then all sudden it will bleed into “Also you didn’t take out the trash. And also like, who is that on your Instagram?” Whoo, all of those things have been ruminating in your mind, but now you’re putting them out in the world and you can’t solve four problems at a time.
As we’re looking forward to leaving 2020 behind, things aren’t just going to magically be better on Jan. 1. What are some ways we can mindfully enter the new year and prepare ourselves?
I think we need a lot of hope back. And, you know, not to sound like a 2008 Obama campaign, hope is really important right now. If you want tomorrow to be better, you got to think about, “What am I actively doing right now to make my tomorrow better?” Because, yeah, we all got duped on Dec. 31, 2019. We all thought this was about to be it. And it was something, it just wasn’t what any of us wanted.
Can you be making better choices, so that we do know that come February things will be better than December? Come March, things will be better than January?... It’s choices we make today.