Karamo Brown claims to be a control freak, but as I watch him navigate the self-driving features of a huge Ford Edge, I find that a bit hard to believe. "Check this out," he tells me with an excited grin. He presses a button on the steering wheel, leans back in the driver's seat, and before I know it, the car is literally driving itself through the busy streets of Manhattan, pumping the brakes and accelerating when necessary, all on its own. It's the ultimate release of control, which is exactly what Karamo Brown's advice for holiday stress is all about: simply letting go.
"Control just causes so much anxiety in all of our lives," the Queer Eye star tells me in an exclusive interview with Elite Daily. "When you’re trying to control a situation outside of you, it’s always going to cause you anxiety. So you have to relinquish that control."
Even though Brown is specifically explaining how to let go of control during the holidays, he admits to me that he had to use his own advice when it came to maneuvering a self-driving car for the first time: "I’m a control freak, and I immediately wanted to like, control [the car], rather than take my hands off the wheel," he explains. "But now, it’s nice. You realize that you don’t have to control everything. You can give yourself permission to just be."
Allowing yourself to not be in control — whether you find yourself at the wheel of a self-driving car in the crowded streets of New York City, or at the head of a holiday dinner table packed with family members who don't exactly enjoy each other's company — is easier said than done. When it comes to the holidays, specifically, there's no doubt it can be a chaotic time of year: In a Harris Poll survey of over 2,000 adults in the U.S. ages 18 and over, the results of which were shared with Elite Daily, Ford found that 62 percent of Americans agree that the holiday season is one of the most stressful times of the year.
Between traveling, hosting, gift-shopping, and doing your best to help everyone get along, it's really not a shocking statistic, but Brown makes a good point when he tells me it really does boil down to accepting the fact that you won't always be able to control every single one of these details.
"Especially during stressful times like the holidays," Brown explains, "we feel this pressure to have to do more. But sometimes you don’t have to. You can just say, 'I don’t have to control this; I don’t have to be more than what I am today, and that’s totally OK.'"
For instance, during the holidays, maybe you feel weighed down by the pressure of hosting your first-ever Christmas party. Naturally, there are lots of moving pieces: the food, the decor, the music, the guests, and, of course, whether everyone will fit comfortably inside your shoebox-sized apartment. You have control over some of these things — thankfully, your Spotify Wrapped 2018 playlist has the best holiday party jams and couldn't have come at a better time — but, as with most things in life, the situation probably won't turn out 100 percent perfectly. And that's OK. In fact, that's probably what'll make the whole thing truly memorable in the end.
Take Karamo Brown's cringiest holiday moment, for example: "My first year out of college, I invited everyone to my house to cook dinner for them to show them I’m an adult," he tells Elite Daily. "I burnt every single thing I made, but I didn't have the humility to tell everyone that, so I still served it all and tried to pass it off like it was good food. My friends totally went along with it, but my mom, a sweet woman, said it was the most disgusting thing ever." Ah, parents — gotta love 'em, right?
Everyone's been in Brown's shoes before. Sometimes you put yourself out there and try your best, and it just doesn't work out. But the real question is, how did you handle the stress when nothing went the way you planned?
Personally, I'm a relentless people-pleaser, so the holiday season can often feel like a constant series of challenges to one-up myself in the kitchen, in the gifts I'm giving to people, or even in how I talk to and entertain people at parties. And when I don't live up to whatever unrealistic expectations I've set for myself, I spend days, if not weeks after the fact beating myself up for it and thinking of ways I could've done better.
While Brown drives us around SoHo, I open up about some of these habits, and of course, he hits the nail on the head: "You’re putting the stress on yourself," he tells me — and, TBH, I already knew that before hopping in the car with the Queer Eye star. But what he really opened my eyes to was this: More often than not, people are going to have the same good time, and feel the exact same way, regardless of whether or not I push myself so hard to please them.
"Why endure something that makes you so uncomfortable?" Brown asks me. And I don't really have an answer for him because, well, he's right.
The bottom line of Brown's advice is to give yourself permission to honor your true feelings and be exactly who you are, and as he emphasizes that point, he quotes one of his Queer Eye co-stars, Jonathan Van Ness, who often exclaims "Who gave you permission?!" whenever he sees how stunning someone looks with a new haircut, or how much they're killing it at hosting a dinner party for the first time.
"I always respond [to Jonathan], 'I gave myself permission,'" Brown tells me. "You have to give yourself permission to say good things to yourself, because a lot of times, we don’t give ourselves that permission."
Instead, Brown explains, you probably give yourself permission to feel guilty about not spending enough money on gifts, or about not being able to RSVP to every single holiday party you were invited to this year. "We give ourselves permission to say negative things, to stress ourselves out," he tells Elite Daily. "Culturally, we just make people feel as if, if you’re not doing more, you’re not enough. But the thing is, you are enough. We have to remind ourselves of that."