A lot of “normal” people dread the holiday season: so many gifts to buy, so many gatherings, the sense of loneliness even though you’re surrounded by people, and the quality time with all of your family members– to name a few.
What’s more, many people even suffer from the “Holiday Blues,” a term that refers to overwhelming feelings of sadness that last throughout the holiday season. While the Holiday Blues are less serious than depression, these feelings do have a significant impact on people’s ability to function as their usual selves.
Research shows that compared to heterosexual people, LGBTQ people are three times more likely to experience a mental health condition. They are also 2.5 times more likely to experience anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.
A 2016 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are five times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual counterparts.
According to a recent survey by National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately 24% of people with a diagnosed mental illness find that the holidays make their condition “a lot” worse and 40% “somewhat” worse.”
When you suffer from mental illness and are identified as an LGBTQ person, going home for the holidays can seem overwhelming. It’s likely that you are concerned about being judged, differing political and religious beliefs, and overall values.
Here are some tips for you and your family members on making holiday gatherings that evoke a sense of unity and love; we could all use it these days!
Acknowledgment and acceptance
There’s no need to feel ashamed because you may be different from other members of your family. When you accept who you are, it’s much easier for others to accept you. If there’s a family member or a friend who you are especially anxious around or who has told you they don’t accept your “lifestyle,” the best you can do is accept their choice and agree to disagree.
There’s no need to get into a ‘stuffing-flying’ showdown on Thanksgiving Day to push your beliefs on Uncle Joe. Instead, keep living your best life and, most importantly, your truth. You may find Uncle Joe may just come around…
For parents and family members and friends, accept your loved ones for who they are and, most importantly, let them know you accept them. Often LGBTQ family members may not show up at family gatherings, not because they don’t want to but because they don’t feel accepted.
Go out of your way to make your loved one feel accepted. Call them to make sure they plan on attending a holiday gathering, and let them know you look forward to their company. This will go a long way in reducing their anxiety surrounding the gathering.
Set some boundaries for yourself and others. Set a boundary to not engage in any hot topic debates with any of your family members. Instead, find a gentle way to respond and gently dismiss fiery arguments with a response like, “It’s the holidays, let’s avoid religion and politics and talk about something fun.”
Another boundary you should set is not taking on more than you can handle. If your family doesn’t accept who you are, you don’t owe them a thing. You are free to politely decline an invitation to a family event that you know is going to cause you anxiety. Instead, do something that will ease your anxiety, like going on a walk or reading a book. If you do visit your family, set boundaries. You don’t have to stay at your parents’ house if you are not comfortable. That’s what hotels are for. When things get heated, and you start to feel overwhelmed, excuse yourself, and step away from the crowd.
Make time for breaks and self-care
Take breaks. Set an alarm on your phone to remind you to take some breaks to calm down throughout the festivities. This is particularly helpful if you are struggling with anxiety. Aim for one break per hour. Go outside, get some water, take some deep breaths, call a friend if you need to.
Self-care is also vital during the holidays. There is a lot of focus on other people and giving during the holidays. But don’t forget about yourself. Especially if you are dealing with mental health issues. Bring enough medication, take the medication, and follow all routines as prescribed by your doctor or that have been working for you. If a hot bath is the only thing calms you down at the end of the day, take a hot bath, even if it’s in Aunt Nelly’s bathtub from 1960.
Be mindful of microaggressions
According to Psychology Today, “Microaggressions are nonverbal, verbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or harmful messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.”
Don’t let your family hurl microaggressions at you, it’s still discrimination. Call them out for what they’re doing and let them know it’s hurtful and disrespectful. You deserve to be respected for your full, authentic self.
Holiday celebrations are never a good time to announce that you are gay or transgender. So if you are not yet out, save the announcement until after the holiday visit and emotionally prepare yourself to be in the closet for a bit longer. Lastly, remember that at the end of the visit you get to go home. The holidays do not last forever, so do your best to be compassionate to yourself for that brief period and that you can’t control anyone’s behavior but your own. Use this guide as a resource whenever you or a family member is feeling overwhelmed this holiday season.